KASUR – An elderly poor farmer set his standing sugarcane crop on fire in Gidhpur area of Kasur – a city in Punjab – in protest against the mistreatment at the hands of sugar mills mafia and the provincial government.

A video shows the farmer, identified as Jaffar, torching his fully ripen crop and expressing that the farmers were being exploited both by mill owners and the government.

“Neither the factory owners purchase the raw material, nor the government is paying any heed to the issue,” says the farmer.

He continued that by burning the crop, he would be able to sow a cash crop like wheat to be consumed by humans adding that the dues were pending from last year but the officials concerned appeared highly apathetic towards their woes.

After the incident, President of Sugar Mills Association Javed Kiani and farmers representatives called on Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The CM ordered arrest of the mills owners who did not pay the farmers, saying that action would not be against the employees but the owner.

Shehbaz Sharif also the millers who would not pay Rs180 per mound to sugarcane farmers will be brought to justice.

Time and again, the sugarcane farmers across Punjab have lashed out at the government and the institutions concerned for their failure to save growers from exploitation by the sugar mills owners.

They say the sugar mills are not paying the price of the sugarcane as per government’s announced rate for 2017-18.

“The sugar mills are buying sugarcane at the rate of Rs110 per mound whereas the official rate is Rs180 per mound,” said Choudhry Razzaq, a farmer from Bahawalnagar. He said the mills have appointed middlemen who are buying sugarcane at very low rates and they also do not pay cash and farmers are forced to make repeated visits to get their money. Sugarcane is major cash crop of the country.

According to Ministry of Food Security, the sugarcane production was around 81.4 million tons from an area of 1.312 million hectares, in 2016. Farmers have alleged that sugar mills mafia is behind the move.

There are around 32 sugar mills from Lahore to Rahim Yar Khan region, and they all are owned by 12-15 families, said Fayyaz Azim of Kissan Ittehad.

As per procedure, sugar mills issue buying permits to farmers as per their cultivated land. But, in Punjab, sugar mills have not issued permits to small farmers and farmers have no option but to sell their crop to a middleman or mill representative at a throwaway price of Rs100-105 per mound.

According to farmers, Punjab government has directed the local Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners to ensure the provision of permits to small farmers but the local government is helpless in front of powerful sugar mills mafia, which is backed by top politicians of the country.