Sugarcane woes for Modi: Ballooning farmer dues may hit BJP vote bank

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Published: April 11, 2019 6:54:01 PM

Farmer distress seems to have become a major poll issue for the Modi government which has seen numerous farmer’s protest and marches during its tenure.

The continued distress faced by cane farmers who feel to have received little support from the government may not bode well for the Modi government facing Lok Sabha elections 2019 as it may hit their vote bank.

Cane farmers continue to be in distress with little help from the government, which previously assured them of timely payment. The total amount due by the loss making sugar mills to 50 million cane farmers is estimated to be $4.38 billion, reported Reuters on Thursday.

Farmer distress seems to have become a major poll issue for the Modi government which has seen numerous farmer’s protest and marches during its tenure. The delay in payments has disappointed the distressed cane farmers who have gone unpaid for their output for more than a year and were expecting the government help as promised in past years.

READ ALSO: Raghuram Rajan says this will be the key issue for Modi’s BJP as India goes to poll

“The prime minister publicly promised farmers — in 2014 and 2017 — to help them get their payments within 15 days of selling their produce to sugar mills,” said MV Singh, convener of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, in the Reuters report. Despite promises, the government has not done much to ensure timely payments, he said.

Bumper cane harvests and record sugar production have kept the domestic prices low in the past years. This has badly hit the ability of the sugar mills to make timely payments to the cane farmers. Further, prices have also remain depressed due to high level of inventories which has also increased the storage cost.

“Along with the fact that sugar prices are much below the cost of production, huge inventories worth 800 billion rupees are adversely affecting mills’ paying capacity,” said chief of the Indian Sugar Mills Abinash Verma, according to Reuters.

The delay in payments have affected the farmers from states such as UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka. Of the total $4.38 billion, mills based in largest cane producing state Uttar Pradesh owe as much as around $1.56 billion, reported Reuters.

“Most cane growers are barely able to scrape through and it’s sad that neither the state governments nor the Modi administration have done anything,” said Pushpendra Singh, president of the Kisan Shakti Sangh, a farmers’ association.

While the government has taken some measures to raise prices like providing incentives for export and creating buffer stocks, the measures seems to have not yielded desired results so far.

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