First All India Convention of Sugarcane Growers Held
S P Rajendran
THE first all India convention of sugarcane growers, held in Madurai, Tamil Nadu on September 27-28, resolved to organise militant struggles in front of sugar mills across the country on various issues. The first ever convention of the sugarcane growers was held under the direction of All India Kisan Council of the AIKS. It was a memorable and historic event in the Kisan movement of the country, held in the historic city of Madurai, which contributed immensely in building the Kisan movement. The two-day convention analysed in depth various issues of sugarcane cultivation as well as the sugar industry.
Twenty-two delegates, who placed their views on behalf of 230 participants from 11 sugarcane-producing states including Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, held that the neo-liberal policies pursued by successive governments at the Centre were responsible for the acute agrarian crisis and extreme distress of the peasantry.
The convention rejected de-regulation of the sugar industry and the Rangarajan Commission recommendations that are aimed at promoting corporate profiteering at the expense of sugarcane farmers. The central government and the sugar lobby are not implementing the State Advised Price (SAP). Arrears to be paid to sugarcane farmers are mounting and every year it is in the tune of thousands of crores of rupees. According to reports, the arrears for 2014-2015 crop season have touched Rs 20,100 crore or Rs 201 billion ($3.18 billion). This is despite many of the sugar mills registering huge profits and government policies helping the corporate sugar mills with huge export subsidies and interest free loans for repayment of the arrears.
The cost of production has been increasing as input costs have seen an exorbitant rise. There has been an increase in fertiliser prices under the present Nutrient Based Subsidy Regime. Sugarcane being a water intensive crop spread across a year, the irrigation costs have also increased drastically.
The central government under the BJP-led NDA, instead of coming to the rescue of sugarcane growers who already are in distress, is talking about decontrol of sugar to aid the sugar lobby and big corporate who also are defaulters in terms of huge arrears that need to be paid to the cultivators. There have been repeated calls for ensuring that sugarcane farmers get remunerative prices on the lines of the Swaminathan Commission Recommendations of having the fair and remunerative price at 50 per cent over and above the cost of production (C2+50%) at least. Yet disregarding the voices of sugarcane farmers, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) and the BJP-led NDA government has refused to announce remunerative prices.
The decontrolling of the sector, based on the Rangarajan Committee recommendations, has led to an acute crisis for sugarcane farmers and has led to an increase in suicides. Cane prices are being fixed way below the cost of production. In addition to this, lower import tariff is leading to the cheap import of sugar by traders and refineries. Raw sugar is being imported without any restrictions. Notwithstanding the mounting stockpiles, the government, instead of banning imports, allowed cheaper sugar to come in as the international prices are below the domestic prices and then huge subsidies were given to the sugar lobby to export. The BJP government has no sympathy for the farmers who are not even getting the cost of production, and is busy giving huge bail-outs to the sugar lobby and big corporate companies.
Based on these points of the discussion, the All India Convention of Sugarcane Growers charted out the following demands:
1) Implement pro-farmer Swaminathan Commission Recommendations. Reject anti-farmer Rangarajan Commission Recommendations. Reverse decontrol of sugar industry which allows the sugar lobby to rake in profits at the expense of farmers and consumers.
2) State Advised Price and Section 5 A which were abolished by amendment to the Sugar Control Order of 1966 must be reinstated. Implement the Sugarcane Control Order of 1966.
3) All arrears due to sugarcane growers must be paid with interest in a time-bound manner and action must be taken against defaulting companies.
4) A comprehensive sugarcane policy must be evolved through consultation with the cane growers and peasant organisations.
5) Standardisation of the methodology to arrive at cost of cultivation to avoid the discrepancies and underestimation.
6) Recommend prices such that it provides adequate incentive for farmers to cultivate sugarcane. The price of sugarcane should be at least Rs 4,000 per tonne.
7) Minimum 10 per cent levy sugar and distribution through the public distribution system must be ensured. Explore possibilities of including some quantity of jaggery under the PDS.
8) Imports must be curbed by ensuring quantitative restrictions and increased import duty not below 60 per cent.
9) Stringent measures should be taken to curb practice of sugar mills arbitrarily fixing the recovery rate often much below the actual and also complaints of fraudulent weighing of the produce.
10) Sugarcane pricing should have a revenue sharing formula in addition to the SAP wherein the total revenue generated in the cane-sugar value chain from sugar and its first stage by-products (molasses, bagasse and press mud) can be shared between farmers and millers.
11) Ethanol production has to be increased to 20 per cent.
12) Individual insurance must be provided to sugarcane farmers to meet crop and income losses arising out of pests, wild animals, natural calamities, accidents and price fluctuations.
13) Expenditure of cane cutting and transportation must be borne by the companies.
14) Strengthen the cooperative sector and modernise it using the Sugar Development Fund and ensure minimum crushing capacity of minimum of 5000 tonnes/day.
15) Sugarcane being a long gestation crop with single cropping in a year, the risk involved for farmers is also greater and this should be taken note of while fixing the prices.
16) Sugar Development Fund is almost entirely cornered by the industry and its flow is not equitable or beneficial for farmers. This has to be corrected.
17) Tenant farmers should be recognised and be made eligible for subsidies and loans.
18) Production enhancing techniques must be developed to overcome the stagnation in productivity and they must be disseminated to farmers at subsidized rates.
19) In view of the deficient rainfall, free inputs, interest free loan and irrigation subsidy must be given to cane farmers.
20) Explore possibilities for agro-processing and value addition through farmers’ collectives and support such initiatives.
21) Agricultural Workers’ SHGs or Collectives may be encouraged to use cost-effective mechanisation with support from panchayats and government schemes.
22) Workers’ Rights in Sugar Factories must be protected and Social Security measures must be implemented.
23) Coimbatore Sugarcane Seed Research Centre should be improvised and their new technologies and production enhancing varieties should be transferred to farmers’ fields.
Passing unanimously a comprehensive resolution which was included the above demands, the convention resolves to unite the sugarcane growers across the country and launch struggle against the anti-farmer policies of the central and state governments as well as the corporate sugar lobby. A week-long campaign will be held from 3rd to 10th December and 15th December will be observed as All India Demands Day with militant struggles across the country on demands of sugarcane farmers.
The convention was inaugurated by K Varadharajan, vice president of the All India Kisan Sabha. He said that a state-level organisation of sugarcane growers had been first formed in Tamil Nadu about 30 years ago. Veteran leader of the Kisan movement in Tamil Nadu, G Veeriahan, was the first president of Tamil Nadu Sugarcane Growers Association. At that time, Tamil Nadu Kisan Sabha decided to mobilise farmers, section wise and crop wise. Instead of general terms, crop wise mobilisation of peasants has become very much a necessity, because various sections of farmers are facing various types of problems. For instance, he explained, paddy producing farmers are facing different problems than sugarcane growers. The government is not fixing the right price for the paddy. Mainly, the middle men and brokers are looting the paddy farmers. We demand direct procurement from the government side to tackle the problem. We also demand fixing of a right price as a minimum support price. But, the government is not ready to address the demands of paddy farmers. Instead of helping paddy farmers, the government is helping the middle men and the brokers.
But, Varadharajan says, the problem is not same for sugarcane growers. In sugarcane farming, there are no brokers or middle men. Most of the sugarcane farmers directly supply their canes to the sugar mills run by the government or individual owners. Here the main problem is, each and every sugar factory is holding crores and crores of money of the peasants in their pocket as arrears. The total amount of the dues which is pending in the hands of mill owners touched above Rs 20,000 crore, he said. If a small farmer with Rs 5,000 loan does not pay in the right time to the cooperative societies or banks, he is facing severe actions. But, the sugar mill owners, who are holding nearly Rs 20,000 crore as unpaid arrears for the sugarcane farmers, are not facing any action; instead, the government is giving subsidy to the sugar mill owners.
So, these type of variations between various crops and various section of farmers have to be addressed separately; and also all the farmers have to be united under the same umbrella against the anti-farmer policies of the government. Taking these aspects in consideration, in Tamil Nadu, we have formed various organisations of various farmers. For instance, Tribal association, Milk Producers Association and Chicken Producers Association etc., formed as separate organisations under the banner of AIKS, he said.
Vice president of AIKS and president of Tamil Nadu Vivasayikal Sangam, K Balakrishnan MLA, presided over the convention. He and P Shanmugam, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Vivasayikal Sangam, who greeted the convention, explained the long history of struggle and victories of sugarcane growers in the state. Joint secretary of the AIKS Vijoo Krishnan placed a report on sugarcane growers with a detailed analysis about the sugar industry. N K Sukla, joint secretary of AIKS, greeted the convention. R Annadurai, CPI(M) MLA and chairman of the reception committee, gave the welcome address. D Ravindran, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Sugarcane Growers Association, proposed vote of thanks.
Finally, AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah addressed the convention and gave a clarion call to the sugarcane growers to hold militant struggle, not just a token protest on December 15, to force the authorities to accede to their demands. He reminded that the land bill of the Modi government was forced to drop for the time being only due to the militant and broad-based Kisan struggle across the country. So, he called for building broad-based Kisan movement and intensifying the struggle against the Modi government, the enemy of the entire farming community of the country.
The historic convention concluded with a huge rally of sugarcane growers, holding canes in their hands, marching through Madurai streets and a massive public meeting.