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Sugarcane growers to lobby against inclusion of sugar mill owners in new Karnataka cabinet

In December last year, sugarcane farmers had protested for 23 days, demanding higher prices and alleging that sugar factory owners were cheating farmers by using faulty measures to weigh the cane that they brought in. The Ministry for Textiles and Sugar had in response ordered raids on 22 sugar factories, but officials did not find any evidence of malpractice in the weighing.

Sugarcane growers representatives are planning to seek Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot’s intervention to advise the new chief minister not to have sugar mill owners on the next cabinet, blaming them for the unpaid bills and other issues.

Karnataka State Sugarcane Growers’ Association president Kurubur Shanthakumar told ET on Thursday that the organisation will meet the governor over the weekend with the demand. “Right now, around 38 MLAs across all the parties own sugar factories. The growers’ demands are not being addressed at all,” he said. Karnataka’s assembly polls took place on Wednesday and Shanthakumar said that no party had any promising schemes for sugarcane farmers’ welfare. “Most of the policies and programmes favour factory owners,” he added.

Karnataka is the third largest sugar producing state in the country, after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. There are 78 sugar mills in the state, most of which are found in north Karnataka and the Mandya-Mysuru region. Sugar barons who own these factories have been influential in politics across, like the Jarkiholi brothers in Belagavi and BJP minister Murugesh Nirani from Bagalkot. There are more than 30 lakh sugarcane farmers in the state, according to Shanthakumar.

The farmers’ association has also accused factory owners of not paying the full fair and remunerative price (FRP) to growers. “We estimate that the factories owe us about Rs 950 crore,” said Shanthakumar.

In December last year, sugarcane farmers had protested for 23 days, demanding higher prices and alleging that sugar factory owners were cheating farmers by using faulty measures to weigh the cane that they brought in. The Ministry for Textiles and Sugar had in response ordered raids on 22 sugar factories, but officials did not find any evidence of malpractice in the weighing.

However, Commissioner for Cane development Shivanand H Kalakeri told ET that the officials who conducted the raids were not trained to catch signs of tampering. “We deputed 104 people from departments like food and civil supplies, consumer affairs and the police. We couldn’t include officials from the department of weights and measures – who are actually qualified to check for tampering – because the complaint was against them,” he said.

Karnataka’s assembly polls took place on Wednesday for 224 constituencies. During the campaign, sugarcane was a major issue on which the parties contested. AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi accused the ruling BJP of providing lower prices to sugarcane farmers in the state, saying that every Congress-ruled state provided better prices. The BJP on the other hand, defended the sugar factories with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi praising their contribution towards ethanol-petrol blending.

Sugarcane politics is likely to affect poll results in the 50 constituencies of the Kittur Karnataka belt, which includes seven regions – Uttara Kannada, Belagavi, Dharwad, Vijayapura, Bagalkote, Gadag and Haveri. More than a dozen of the contesting candidates in the region own sugar factories. The Belagavi district alone with 18 seats hosts 25 sugar mills.

The issue may also affect the outcome in Mandya and Mysuru, which have 18 seats combined, currently dominated by the JDS. The region’s government-run Mysugar and Pandavapura factories have closed down, forcing them to spend extra money on transport as they had to take their produce to the neighbouring districts, farmers say.

The above news was originally posted on news.google.com

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