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Eerie quiet in South Gujarat's sugarcane tribal farmers, as allegations fly high over refusal to pay huge dues

A recent Morcha rally in state capital Gandhinagar
By Our Representative
An eerie quiet prevails among tribal farmers of South Gujarat. Information emanating from activists working in three districts, Surat, Tapi and the Dangs, suggests that thousands of tribal farmers have “not been paid” their dues on purchase of sugarcane they produce in their fields. Expressing concern over their plight, the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha, which claims to represent tribal farmers in the three districts, has said, the Ukai Pradesh Khand Udyog Sahkari Mandali, the cooperative with the rights to buy up sugarcane in order to pass on the crop to the local sugar producing units, has “not paid its dues between 2006 and 2014.”
Worse, the Morcha -- which is led by Romel Sutariya, an Ahmedabad-based activist who works among the tribal farmers of South Gujarat -- has said that the state’s authorities are refusing to respond and the police is not registering a case against those responsible for “several crores worth of corruption involving non-payment of dues.” In a statement, it said, “We have represented to the district collectors, the agriculture minister, the Gujarat governor, and the chief minister, yet the police has not been instructed to start investigation.”
The Morcha statement, however, does not give details of how much of dues have not been paid and why. It only alleges this is happening because there is a “close nexus between corrupt sugar cooperative lobby and the ruling party politicians.” The statement wondered, “We would like to know who has usurped the huge profits emanating from 93,000 sugarcane production. Who has cornered all the money from sugar and molasses produced from such huge quantity of sugarcane? And why even the case is not being registered?”
The statement says that refusal to register a police complaint is a “violation of a Supreme Court order.” In an order in November 2013, the Supreme Court had said that it was “mandatory” for the police to register first information report (FIR) if a complainant approaches it for the registration of a cognizable offence. The order by a five judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said that action should be taken against the police officer for his failure to register an FIR on the complaint of a cognizable offence.
Romel Sutariya with other activists
“We believe that even if the police agree to file an FIR, that would put pressure on the sugarcane cooperative body to start paying the tribal farmers’ dues. The failure to register an FIR would mean the powerful body would get enough time to destroy all evidence of non-payment of dues to the advantage of the sugar industry”, the statement pointed out, adding, “Taking cognizance of the Supreme Court order, the government must act against the police officials refusing to register an FIR in this case.”
The issue of non-payment of dues to tribal farmers first came to light in August 2014, when Morcha representatives – including Romel Sutariya, Yakubbhai Gamit, Ileshbhai Gamit, Manojbhai Gamit – met the Gujarat governor in person to apprise him of the unrest brewing in South Gujarat. “He was asked to come to the aid of the manmade disaster which has engulfed the tribal farmers”, the statement said, claiming, the governor agreed that the matter was “serious” and decided to convey facts he got from the Morcha to the state officials concerned. “Yet nothing has happened till date”, the Morcha said.

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