The Uttar Pradesh government has announced a crackdown on the state's ‘sugarcane mafia’ and slapped the National Security Act (NSA) against such elements. The move comes ahead of the 2019-20 sugarcane crushing season which is still some months away.
The NSA authorises the Centre or a State government to arrest a person, who poses a threat to national security. The act also empowers the government to detain a person in order to prevent him from disrupting public order or for maintenance of supplies, services essential to the community. The maximum period for which a person may be detained is 12 months.
Sugarcane mafia refers to middlemen who get themselves enrolled as farmers with respective cane societies. During the crushing season, they procure the crop from small and marginal farmers at cheaper rates and later sell the harvest to mills at much higher government determined state advised price (SAP), thus duping genuine farmers.
UP cane commissioner Sanjay Bhoosreddy, on Thursday, said that apart from NSA, which provides for a minimum jail term of three months, more charges could be slapped against sugarcane mafia if found guilty of harming government officials or damaging property. Action would also be taken against complicit government officials and farmers, he noted.
“Over the past two years, we have weeded out more than 90% of such elements operating in the state sugarcane matrix. The remaining sugarcane mafia would be taken to task in the next season,” Bhoosreddy told Business Standard.
According to Bhoosreddy, this manipulation by middlemen costs sugar mills nearly Rs 4,000 crore annually on account of drying of cane crop, under-weighing and sub-optimum sugar recovery.
At present, the annual sugarcane based economy in UP is worth almost Rs 40,000 crore with four million farmers’ households directly involved in the cultivation of the crop.
Meanwhile, the UP sugarcane department has launched the annual sugarcane survey to register bona fide sugarcane farmers and weed out middlemen. Later, senior officials would vet the survey data with spot verifications. The process started on May 5 and is expected to continue till June 30.
“While, ‘external’ sugarcane mafia have largely been weeded out, we are now targetting such elements, who had permeated the ‘system’ through the institutional mechanism,” Bhoosreddy added.
Last year, the state had filed nearly 28 FIRs against sugarcane mafia pertaining to the 2017-18 crushing season, apart from 15 additional cases lodged for under-weighing at sugarcane purchase centres. In fact, some sugar mills were also found complicit in such activities.
Bhoosreddy has urged cane farmers to cooperate with officials during field surveys, which collates farmers’ name, land holding, cane variety sown, etc, for making forecasts about expected crop acreage and production.
The entire survey process is backed by the geographical positioning system (GPS) for transparency and tamper proof scientific data collection and analysis.
The issue of sugarcane payments has been one of the top political agendas, especially in the Western UP belts, during the ongoing 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the 2018-19 cane crushing season, outstanding to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore has got accumulated, especially on the private sector mills, which number more than 93. There are 119 operational sugar mills in UP.