"We are on the verge of committing suicide," says an angry Rajeev Singh, a sugarcane farmer from Halalpur village in Baraut. "We have not been paid for the sugarcane crop since last year," he says.
For these thousands of sugarcane farmers in more than 80 villages of Baghpat district, note ban is not the main worry. "We anyway have no money," Singh says. "We are happy with the move. The farmers anyway have no black money," says Kunwar Pal, another farmer.
"It is Modi who has made our life miserable," Singh said. However, he isn't talking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but Umesh Modi and his company SBEC Sugars.
The company, in the neighbouring Malakpur village, has defualted on cane payments. The sugar mill, according to Dhoom Singh, the Chairman of the Cooperative Sugarcane Society of the sugar mill, owes a whopping Rs 239 crore in cane arrears plus another Rs 29 crore as interest.
Farmers complain, that despite their multiple protests and submissions to the authorities, even this year, their area has been allotted to the same mill. "The state government should have either taken over the mill or allotted this region to the other mill," says Dhoom Singh.
"A recovery notice is pending against the mill and still the sugarcane was allotted," Dhoom Singh points out alleging that the state government is mixed up with the mill owners. However, diversion of cane may not be possible to other mills, as they do not have the capacity.
No action against defaulters
Meanwhile, the farmers are also livid with PM Narendra Modi."In his independence day address, PM Modi claimed 95% of the money has been paid. And the remaining 5 per cent of the arrears to the sugarcane farmers will be paid soon. Where is our money?" Dhoom Singh asks. He recounted, how even in his Lok Sabha campaign rally in Baraut, he cited the Gujarat model to drive the point how farmers are paid on time.
Subhash Chaudhary, a farmer and a Khaap leader points out how two buses full of farmers had met the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav."He instead of coming up with a solution told us how Umesh Modi has run away to a foreign country," Chaudhary says.
Local farmers say the issue could decide the forthcoming elections at least in this region and how the rumour that Rashtriya Lok Dal Chief Ajit Singh was not receptive to the demands of the farmers as he was close to the mill owners cost him the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
Umesh Modi, happens to be the uncle of IPL czar and fugitive Lalit Modi, who now lives in London to evade the country's enforcement authorities. Umesh Modi, too, the villagers point out, has disappeared and is said to be in London. In May this year, UP Police had reportedly complained that Modi is absconding after an FIR was registered against him. However, the FIR, a copy of which is available with Catch, names the manager of the mill Rajkumar Sharma as an accused.
Around 13 mills including Mawana Sugars, Simbhaoli et al, owe the farmers around 1,300 crore. However, the Malakpur sugar mill is on top of the list of the defaulters in Uttar Pradesh, where most others mills have either paid off the farmers or have lesser arrears.
The payment came after sustained pressure from the farmers and after cases of suicide were reported from the region. Something unusual in this otherwise prosperous belt. At least two cases of farmers suicide were reported from Baghpat and Baraut.
"Umesh Modi, instead of paying the farmers, transfers the money of the mill to related group companies," Dhoom Singh claims, flashing the latest copy of the balance sheet of the company which shows loans and advances amounting to Rs 23,00,50,000 to SBEC Stockholding and investments ltd.
"When a farmer defaults on any loan, he is sent to jail. Why are these mill owners not arrested even when there is a recovery notice pending against them," Dhoom Singh asks.
Vipin Dwivedi, the UP cane commissioner told Catch that there is an issue if the other mills are able to pay and few like Modi group are defaulting, pointing out how the alibi that they are not making enough profit doesn't stand in their case.
In this cane growing belt, the farmers mostly depend on the crop for their livelihood. Any major disruption in the sugar cane economy has a cascading impact on other sectors since it impacts the purchasing power of the farmers. A quintal of sugarcane, in the current season, fetches Rs 305 per quintal. With the mill locked up, the farmers some of the desperate farmers, looking for cash, have been forced to sell their crop to local cane crushers which pay only Rs 180 per quintal, much less than the sugar mills.
After demonetisation, which has resulted in a severe paucity of cash, even the cane crushers are either not paying or giving old currency notes. "We know they will pay up sooner or later," says Kunwar Pal Singh, adding how even payment in old currency notes is better than not getting paid at all. "Plus it is for the larger good of the country as it will get rid of all the black money," Rajeev Singh says.
Subhash Chaudhary, meanwhile, says that 84 gram panchayats have already given an ultimatum to the mill owners and the local administration to pay up in the next week or they will hit the streets. "We will lock down the capital too," farmers threaten.
Dwivedi, meanwhile, says that the local administration is working out a solution which could involve part payment of the dues so that the mill at least starts functioning. However, that may not assuage the farmer. "We will not agree to any part payment plan," Kunwar Pal Singh says.