Sugar factories, many run by political leaders, have delayed payments to sugarcane growers- already reeling under poverty- and left them in extreme distress.
High drama is unfolding at the Belgaum session of the legislature over the death of sugarcane grower Vittal Arabhavi, who drank pesticide and died in front of Suvarna Soudha on Wednesday. Sugar mills owned or managed by political leaders have run up arrears of several crores, according to information provided by the Commissioner for Cane Development and Director of Sugar in response to an RTI petition filed by A C Chandra Shekar.
Of the 58 sugar factories in the state, two are run by the government. Twenty-two are in the cooperative sector and 34 are private, with 33 being owned by politicians from across the spectrum.
Factories don’t pay cane growers in time, though the rules say they must clear their dues in 14 days, or pay interest at 15 per cent. But the factories are hardly ever penalised. Politicians running the factories use their influence and quell growers’ protests, allege farmers’ leaders.
A recent case involves the cane growers of Maddur in Mandya district. They were angry with Chamundeshwari Sugar Factory, owned by N Mahalingam, a three-time Congress MLA in Tamil Nadu.
The factory, with two units, owes them Rs. 4.40 crore. They were protesting in front of the factory and demanding their dues.
The police arrived at KM Doddi, in Mandya district, and threatened to jail all farmers protesting in front of the factory there (the second unit is in Hassan), according to a published report. Soon they lathi-charged the protesters.
Nirani Sugars, situated in Mudhol of Bagalkot, owes farmers Rs. 34.40 crore. It is owned by former industries minister Murugesh Nirani of the BJP.
Ghataprabha Cooperative Sugar Factory, Gokak, is controlled by Balachandra Jarkiholi, MLA and former minister of municipal administration in the BJP government. This factory owes farmers Rs.17.38 crore.
KJP MLA Gurupadappa Nagamarapalli, who controls Naranja sugar factory in Bidar district, says his factory owed no dues to farmers. ‘’We have cleared all dues and there is no truth in your information,’’ he told Express. When Express contacted Nirani, he denied his sugar factory owes over Rs. 34 crore to farmers. “We had the arrears of over Rs. 30 crore a couple of months ago. But we have cleared them. We have no dues to farmers now,” he claimed. Express went back to the Department of Cane Development, and officials said that none of the above factories had cleared their dues.
Farmers Protest Across State
Across the state, protests broke out over the death of the farmer. Holding the government responsible for Vitthal Arabhavi’s death, BJP activists staged road block on Pune-Bangalore National Highway in Belgaum on Thursday.
Hasiru Sene state president Kodihalli Chandrashekhar demanded the government to initiate criminal proceedings against the sugar mill which owed dues to Vittal Arabhavi. In Bellary, the district unit of KRRS and Hasiru Sene have threatened to boycott the Hampi Utsav if government fails to fulfill the sugarcane farmers’ demands. Activists of the organisations also staged a protest in Shimoga.
In Mysore, the traffic on T Narasipur Road came to a standstill for about half an hour as farmers blocked the road in protest against Arabhavi’s death. BJP workers also staged a protest.