VELLORE: Even as the standoff between sugar mill workers and the State Government continued unresolved for the past three weeks, bringing crushing operations to a standstill, the hapless sugarcane farmers of this district are demanding that the State compensate them for the unnecessary expenses incurred by them for transporting the crop for crushing to far away locations, as well as for the mental agony and uncertainty faced by them in encashing their crops.
Due to the strike, the three cooperative sugar mills in the district located at Tirupattur, Ambur and Ammundi had diverted the harvested sugar cane to the private sugar mills at Tiruvannamalai and Kancheepuram recently when the strike by the workers attached to these mills intensified. The statewide strike has forced workers and staffers (technical and non-technical except those belonging to the common cadre comprising engineers, chemists and administrators) attached to the 17 cooperative sugar mills in the state, including those in Vellore district, to abstain from work. A major plea of the striking workers is that they be paid wages on par with State Government employees.
In a statement, K Kannaiyya Naidu, President of the Ammundi Vellore Sugarmill Sugarcane Farmers Progressive Association, has contended that while the diversion to the private sugar mills to diffuse the strike was a temporary measure that in fact had helped the farming community to some extent, the hike in the transport cost would eat into their returns.
While the talks between the trade union leaders and the government had not made headway until now, Naidu claimed that delay in harvesting the cane had resulted in the sugarcane losing weight by up to 50 per cent and that this would be reflected in the returns. The farmers had to pay an extra `1,500 towards transportation cost to the private mills besides incurring incidental expenses of `750. He pointed out that the loss was not only for the farmers but also for the state and the central governments and added that the delay in resolving the strike would delay completing the cleaning operations at the mills, which in turn would delay the crushing operations for the next season.
R Mullai, State Joint Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Sugarcane Producers Association in Tirupattur has demanded a white paper from the State Government on the issue while giving reasons for the delay in resolving the same. He claimed that more than 40 per cent of the standing crop was withering in the farms and that the farmers should be compensated for this as well. Sugarcane had thus far remained a staple commercial crop and the majority of the cane farmers was sacred to opt for this crop since they had lost faith in the cooperative sector. According to him the cane farmers were in a big fix and were unable to plan for the next crop. He complained that further delay in resolving the issue would benefit largely the private mills while seriously affecting the future of the cooperative mills. He urged the state government to resolve the issue at the earliest to facilitate the uncrushed standing crop, asking that it be crushed by the cooperative mills without being diverted to the private mills.