Karnataka

Sugarcane dues not on poll agenda of political parties

A file photo of sugarcane-laden vehicles lined up on a road in Belagavi district during a protest by farmers.

A file photo of sugarcane-laden vehicles lined up on a road in Belagavi district during a protest by farmers.  

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Two candidates own factories that owe arrears to growers

Two candidates contesting the byelections in the sugarcane growing district of Belagavi, Ramesh Jarkiholi and Srimanth Patil, run sugar factories that farmers’ leaders have claimed owe huge arrears to growers in the region. But that is hardly being seen as an election issue in the region.

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatan president Raju Setty held a meeting with farmers here last week. He told them to take up the issue of non-payment with various political parties. “They should be held accountable for their assurances to farmers,” he said. However, leaders cutting across party lines run sugar factories and have dues, making it a “non-issue” for all.

Devastated by floods

Sugar factories owe farmers an estimated ₹500 crore for the last 10 years. The growers have been doubly hit as floods have devastated them this year. If these byelections are to be fought on any one plank, it should be the suffering of farmers, said Sidagouda Modagi, a farmers’ leader.

Farmers’ leader Choonappa Pujari said pending sugarcane arrears was a problem across the State. “Farmers prefer sugarcane as it is a hardy crop and is not damaged by small changes in the weather. But during the recent floods in north Karnataka, sugarcane crops on large tracts of land were destroyed. There is no chance of those farmers recovering anything. If the factories were to pay some amount of dues to them, they will be able to sow something in their fields in the coming season,” Mr. Pujari said.

Sugarcane-related problems are being raised by some candidates though. Congress candidate in Kagwad Raju Kage told voters at a rally recently that Mr. Patil had been sitting on crores of rupees that meant to be distributed to farmers.

Leaders of various parties, however, do not think that sugarcane arrears will be an election issue. A Congress leader in charge of campaign said they could not raise this issue as they were afraid of questions by farmers about their failure to ensure justice to them during the tenure of the Congress government or the coalition government. A JD(S) leader said sugarcane was a tricky issue as leaders of all parties had sugar factories and that most of them were defaulters.

“It is sad that farmers’ problems never become election issues,” said veteran farmers’ leader and former Union Minister Babagouda Patil. “I have seen over the years that farmers have stopped trusting anyone. That is why they don’t consider their problems as an issue that will determine election outcomes,” he said.

According to figures available till July, the end of the last crushing season, of the 24 factories in Belagavi, 14 have settled all their dues. Ten factories still owe around ₹294 crore to growers.

“We have paid all our dues except that for 2013–14. They are pending because of some technical problems. All the arrears will be paid in the next few months,” said BJP candidate for Gokak Ramesh Jarkiholi.

“Of all the factories in the district, we are the only one to pay farmers according to fair and remunerative price (FRP) fixed by the government. If there are any dues, they will be cleared soon,” said Mr. Patil.

However, Mr. Modagi has contested this claim. “Neither have the factories paid the FRP, nor have they cleared all their dues,” he said.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 11:48:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/sugarcane-dues-not-on-poll-agenda-of-political-parties/article30119270.ece

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