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Bihar's closed sugar mills - a poll plank for leaders, but nothing more than a joke for voters

Bihar's closed sugar mills - a poll plank for leaders, but nothing more than a joke for voters

It seems that the issue of sugar mills has just become a vote seeking plank for the political parties in Bihar.

It seems that the issue of sugar mills has just become a vote seeking plank for the political parties in Bihar. Every political party includes the issue of re-opening sugar mills in their election manifesto, but on the ground, farmers and employees find it nothing more than a joke.

In 2005, when incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was voted to power for the first time, he had assured to open 15 closed sugar mills in the state. But even after 10 years of rule, the promise is yet to be fulfilled.

The issue of sugar mills has been at the centrestage of ongoing Bihar Assembly elections once again.

In Tirhoot and Champaran area, sugarcane is the only cash crop for farmers. But with no functioning sugar mill in place, the farmers have almost stopped harvesting sugarcane.

When you move towards East Champaran from Muzaffarpur, the abandoned sugar mill in Motihari district narrates the story of government apathy. News18 visited the abandoned sugar mill and discovered that the entire area has turned into a forest around tall chimneys. Five guards, sitting inside mosquito nets, told News18 that the mill has not been functioning since 1996.

Two of the guards, Vinod Kumar from Sirsiya village and Narwar's Gauri Shankar told News18 that the mill is surrounded with dense forest and there's always a threat of attack from snakes and other dangerous animals.

There's a legal tangle to this as well. Bihar government had sold out the mill to Indian Potassium Ltd, following which it was scheduled to resume production in six months. However, it did not happen. Vinod Kumar said, "Three years ago the cleanliness drive was started but the old owner of this land moved court against the deal. The owner had challenged the deal between government and Indian Potassium Ltd, claiming that the land where mill is constructed belongs to him."

Guards at this mill get salary from Indian Potassium Ltd. But the nature of their job at the mill is amusing. According to Gauri Shankar, "We have been asked to take care of mill. Our duty is to guard the equipments installed inside the mill. But you can see, who will dare to enter this place? Even notorious criminals won't dare to cross this jungle and steal the rotten irons. We stay here at the gate and guard this place."

Sugar mill can change the fate of farmers

Once, this sugar mill was the only source of income for farmers in the area. One sugarcane farmer, Ramsevak said, "Now we are forced to take our sugarcane to either Reega (Sitamarhi) or Singhwalia (Gopalganj). The fate of farmers will change if this mill is re-opened."

"In every election, political leaders make promises to open this mill. But in reality, nothing is happening," he added.

Around 50 km further towards Motihari, there lies another abandoned sugar mill. And opening of this mill is key issue in the ongoing election campaign. Some elderly people at a tea shop told News18 that everyone would make a promise about re-opening the mill as it was election season. "Even Nitish Kumar had received votes for the first time from this seat as he promised to open the mill. And once again he is seeking vote on the same promise. See, whoever wins will never come back from Patna to open this mill."

RJD candidate Vinod Srivastava also confirmed their claim. Speaking to News18, he said, "My priority is to open this closed mill after winning this election."