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Will Vani Vilas sugar unit be revived?

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Defunct: The Vani Vilas Sugar Factory in Hiriyur taluk of Chitradurga district.
Defunct: The Vani Vilas Sugar Factory in Hiriyur taluk of Chitradurga district.

Firoz Rozindar

It was closed down in 2004 following allegations of corruption

Chitradurga: The Vani Vilas Cooperative Sugar Factory, which was once a boon to sugarcane farmers and people of Hiriyur, Challakere and Hosadurga taluks of Chitradurga district, has now become a bane.

The lack of political will and allegations of corruption have resulted in the closing down of the factory compelling many workers to live in dismay.

The factory, which started in 1972 with a crushing capacity of 1,250 tonnes, had given employment to over 500 people who were directly or otherwise earning a livelihood out of the factory. More than 5,000 farmers were also benefiting from the factory.

However, it closed down in 2004. The families that were dependent on it are now struggling for survival. The workers, who were earning around Rs. 7,000 a month, are now involved in petty business or working as labour to meet their requirements.

Everything went on smoothly for over a decade after its commencement, but when in 1984 the district faced an acute drought, the factory found it difficult to function. This situation prevailed till 1996.

Despite the difficulties, the factory resumed work and the employees were hired back. Though the factory did well after resumption of work, bad days returned in 2004 when it was again closed down following a loss.

The factory has debts put at about Rs. 30 crore. “Before the closure, compensation or relief was not announced for the workers. Most of us have not received our salaries. Pension has not been settled, while many workers have not received gratuity,” complained worker Siddappa, who is fighting for justice for the past four years.

The factory owns 288 acres of land, a portion of which has been given to a private distillery on rent. A few acres have been acquired by the National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) for road widening. The distillery owes Rs. 1.6 crore, while the NHAI is supposed to pay Rs. 12 crore to the factory.

Mr. Siddappa said that if this recovery is made, which is over Rs. 13 crore, the funds can be used to disburse salaries and settle compensation issues.

The situation of sugarcane farmers is also depressing. Traditional sugarcane growers have now taken up crops such as ragi.

When contacted, Liquidator of the factory B.K. Chennappagouda told The Hindu that the Government has decided to revive the factory by leasing it out. A Pune-based company has made an assessment. “A report has been submitted to the Government which is waiting for Cabinet approval,” he said.

Though he did not disclose much about the assessment report, he asserted that as per the report, the position of the company is good. With a minimum financial aid, it can be revived, he said.

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