The Rs 25 hike in sugarcane procurement price is “too meagre after a gap of four years” but farmers may still vote for the BJP in West Uttar Pradesh as they say law and order has vastly improved — this seems the prevailing sense in Muzaffarnagar, the sugarcane capital of Uttar Pradesh.
The tall sugarcane crop is almost ready for harvest in West UP and the state government has announced that the sugar mills will open from October 20. What is however occupying everyone’s attention here and is slated to be a major election issue in five months is the declaration by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath two days ago that the government will pay Rs 25 more per quintal for sugarcane procured this year. This hike has come after a long gap of four years.
At Simli village, Ashok Kumar points at his sugarcane field and says the Rs 25 hike is not enough. “It should have been increased to at least Rs 400 (the hiked price is Rs 350). The price was increased after a gap of four years while the input cost has increased a lot in the interim like the price of diesel and fertiliser,” says Kumar. But he quickly adds about the improvement in law and order in West UP. “Earlier, there was an incident every second day. But this is no longer the case in the last 4-4.5 years. You can even go into jungles late at night, the electricity is also coming.”
A younger farmer, Pradeep Pal, says they now get their dues much quicker than in earlier regimes. “Earlier, payments were delayed for a long time — even for 3-4 years. Now, most farmers get their dues by the yearly season-end,” says Pal.
In the Khajanpur village, a group of village elders are lazing in the sun on a ‘khat’ (charpoy) near their sugarcane fields. “Compared to inflation, the price hike is too low. But the fact is that the farmer is happy with the vastly improved law and order situation which is also a major issue. We are sitting here without fear. This Yogi government will come back on the main plank of improved law and order,” says Karan Pal Singh. He adds that two-third of the farmers are still with the BJP. “You have seen that the Bharat Bandh was hardly successful. The three farm laws — some people who don’t have full knowledge, it is an issue for them. I have read all clauses — there is nothing wrong in these laws besides that farmers should get a recourse to court in case of a dispute and not just SDM who is a government representative,” he says.
Farmer Yogendra Kumar here says farmers in West UP have never been angry with the BJP. “Yes, there was a Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar earlier this month and some of us went there. But we are more bothered about inflation and law and order than anything else. If the hike in sugarcane price was more, it would have been better. I would appeal to the CM to consider more hike,” Kumar told News18.
Western UP has been the bastion for the BJP in the 2014, 2017 and 2019 elections with farmers voting for the BJP in a big way. The RLD under Jayant Choudhary and the Samajwadi Party are trying to re-establish their base here on the basis of the farmer agitation against the three farm laws and the low sugarcane procurement price. Choudhary has been extensively touring West UP to build a narrative. His posters also dominate the landscape.
However, according to the BJP, farmers have not forgotten the SP and BSP era when they waited for years for their dues. While the sugarcane farmers were paid Rs 52,131 crore by the BSP government between 2007 and 2012, the SP government paid Rs 95,215 crore to them between 2012 and 2017. However, the Yogi government has paid Rs 1.44 lakh crore to the sugarcane farmers in the last 4.5 years, including arrears of many years dating back to the BSP rule. The UP government also says 85% of the dues of last year’s season have been cleared and the remaining will be given in October before the next season begins.
Farmers in areas like Shamli admit they get their dues well in time now but add that the sugarcane price is much better in adjoining states of Haryana and Punjab where the crop is not even grown in such quantity. The UP government, however, says it has been working on increasing the production of sugarcane in the last four years so that more money goes into the pockets of the farmers. Sugarcane productivity has increased from 59 tonnes per hectare in the BSP rule to 72 tonnes per hectare in the SP rule to almost 81.5 tonnes per hectare in the BJP rule. BJP also says it has opened five new sugar mills while 51 mills were closed or sold by the two previous governments.
Farmers, however, seem more interested in the price they get and say they expected a bigger hike. But they may not still ditch the BJP as yet as the priority seems also to not go back to the “era of riots and lawlessness”, the sugarcane farmers say.