A different `gang war' in Bidar
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Rishikesh Bahadur Desai
Labourers hold sugarcane farmers to ransom in harvesting their crop
Farmers say labourers refuse to harvest their crop unless bribed
Officials say they are losing control over the `gangs'
LEFT IN THE LURCH: Lakshman, a farmer in Talmadgi village, showing the sugarcane crop that the factory did not transport.
Bidar: The word Gang War has a different connotation in Bidar district. Here they do not relate to the clashes between mafia groups. They refer to the losing battle the farmers are fighting with labourers of the three sugar factories in the district. The groups of labourers referred to as gangs, are usually from border villages in Maharashtra.
Farmers have got a bumper yield this year — nearly twice the quantity needed by the factories. Farmers allege that the labourers are harassing them by refusing to harvest their crop unless bribed.
The system of cutting and transport of sugarcane in Bidar is slightly different from that in other cane growing districts such as Belgaum and Mandya.
In other districts, farmers harvest and transport their crop to the factory. The money they get for the crop is called factory gate cane price. In Bidar, the factory sends its labourers and the lorries to the fields to harvest and bring back the cane. The farmers' remuneration is called farm gate price.
"Since harvesting and transportation is the responsibility of the factories, we are at their mercy," says Vishwanath Patil Koutha, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha district unit president.
"We have to register our names with the factories and wait for the factories to pick up the cane. If the labourers and the lorry arrive, then we are lucky," he said. "In case of Prabhu Vankeri of Talmadagi village, the gangs harvested his crop but refused to transport it. This forced Prabhu to commit suicide. We are convinced that the gangs and the factory staff who are in charge of gangs, are responsible for the suicide," Mr. Koutha said.
"Since there is excess cane this year, the gangs have become corrupt," alleges Sidramayya Swamy, president of the Karnataka Pradesh Krishik Samaj. They are demanding that the farmers give them money between Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 an acre over and above the payment they get from the factories, Mr Swamy said.
"We seem to have lost control on the gangs," admits a senior director of the Bidar Sahakari Sakkare Karakhane, the oldest sugar factory in the district.
"We can only give them directions to go a particular village and bring us the sugarcane from the field of a particular farmer. But it is difficult to monitor whether the gangs follow our instructions, "says the director.
Agriculture Minister Bandeppa Kashempur said the issue had come to his notice. "We have directed the village accountants and tahsildars to meet all small and marginal farmers and see if their cane has been procured by factories. They are supposed to give a daily report to the Deputy Commissioner," he said.
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