Muzaffarnagar (UP): Emergence of Naresh and Rakesh Tikait may have brought Western Uttar Pradesh to the centre of farmers’ protest at Delhi borders, but the farming community of the region known as the ‘sugar bowl of India’ have a long list of other and even bigger problems — Stagnant sugarcane price, ever-rising diesel rates and the menace of stray animals, to name a few.
At the same time, ever-changing caste and societal equations are making the landscape much more difficult to predict in this politically-important region, which many political pundits believe would play a key role in the assembly elections next year and in the Lok Sabha polls of 2024.
Raj Kumar, a Rawa Rajput from Satheri village in Muzaffarnagar district, says sugarcane prices have not been raised for the past several seasons, whereas companies have reduced the size of urea and DAP (Diammonium phosphate, a popular phosphatic fertiliser) bags, making the manure costlier and the agriculture “unsustainable”.
“In this region, our elders earlier used to say, ‘Uttam kheti, beech vyapaar, neech naukri’ (Agriculture is best to earn a livelihood, followed by business and then doing a job), but the sequence has turned upside down now,” he said.
Muzaffarnagar, a western Uttar Pradesh district, is not very far from Delhi which has seen its three border points turn into tent cities as farmers protesting against the three new central agricultural laws, which open up the sector for private players, have been camping there for over 100 days now.
Asked about the contentious farm laws, Kumar said he doesn’t know much about them but he has been supporting the protesting farmers as agriculture has become “unsustainable”.
Echoing similar sentiments, Roshan Lal, a Saini by caste and a small-scale farmer, said more than the three farm laws, it is the delay in sugarcane payment and rising diesel prices, along with the problem of stray cattle, that have made their lives miserable.
“More than farm laws, these local issues have broken our back,” Lal said, standing by Kumar.
“All this has forced us to raise their voices for farmers’ issues,” he said.
Sohan, a Kashyap (Jhimir) by caste from Ganshampura village who owns less than one-acre land and uses his crop mostly in his jaggery workshop, said the jaggery price would also remain stagnant until and unless sugarcane prices are increased.
“Yahan to eenkh hi sab kuchh hai uska daam badhega, to gud ka daam bhi badhega, warna mazdoori bhi bachaani mushkil hai (Here sugarcane is everything. If its prices increase, the prices of jaggery will also go up. Otherwise, it would be difficult to pay even wages),” he said.
Sohan said he has heard about the farm laws but doesn’t know much about them. He also flagged the issue of stray cattle.
Many other farmers and traders in the area underlined the importance of sugarcane prices and timely payments to farmers, even as they sounded apprehensive about the three farm laws, saying their information is mostly based on what has been told to them by farmer leaders.
However, opposition to these laws becomes louder and more visible as one moves towards Jats-dominated areas in Western Uttar Pradesh.
In the Shoram village, which is seen as the headquarters of Khaps (caste councils) of the Jat community, a mere mention of farm laws evokes a strong response.
“These laws are not only against the farmers but against the country… Those who are guarding the borders are our sons and behind their back, you are trying to snatch the rights of their brothers who are into farming,” said Bhupender Choudhary, a villager.
Choudhary, a middle-aged farmer, said the sentiment against the farm laws became more pronounced after people in the region saw Bhartiya Kisan Union Leader (BKU) Rakesh Tikait crying on TV channels.
Tikait, himself a Jat, hails from Sisoli village in Muzaffarnagar district.
The protest will continue till the government takes back the farm laws, said Vipin Balyan, a 35-year-old farmer from the Shoram village.
“The proponents of these black laws will pay heavily in coming elections,” he claimed.
Bhupender and Vipin also expressed their concerns about what they called the stagnant sugarcane prices, the delay in payments to sugarcane farmers and the havoc caused by stray cattle, saying all these are damaging farmers economically.
Many farmers in the region also said they are receiving annual Rs 6,000 government assistance under the PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme started by the Centre.
The entire western Uttar Pradesh has been witnessing a number of Mahapanchayts organised either by khaps or farmer leaders or political parties against the farm laws.
The sugarcane crop, the mainstay of the farmers in the region, is cultivated on more than 80 per cent of the arable land in the districts of western Uttar Pradesh.
As per the data provided by All India Sugar Traders Association, the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) of Sugarcane was at Rs 255 per quintal for 2017-18 season and increased to Rs 285 per quintal in 2020-21 season.
Whereas the Uttar Pradesh government’s State Advisory Price (SAP) is fixed at Rs 315 per quintal for the last four seasons from 2017-18.
There are nearly 50 sugar mills in the region besides a large number of jaggery workshops. Several sugar mills have not cleared farmers’ dues of last season, according to farmers.
Agriculture experts say a farmer cultivates on an average 900 quintal of sugarcane in one hectare of land in one season which is of about nine months.
The farmer spends on average around more than Rs 2 lakh per hectare including all its expenses during a season on sugarcane crop. (PTI)
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