The riots in Muzaffarnagar between Jats and Muslims killed dozens and left more than 40,000 homeless. The next casualty, possibly, will be the heart of the district’s economy — the sugar industry.
While Jats own most of the land in the region, it is the Muslim community that dominates workforce and accounts for nearly 90 per cent of labour. “The sugar industry in Muzaffarnagar, which produces about 65,000 tonnes per day, is solely dependent on labour. The Muslim community provides labour to harvest the sugarcane crop and the question is if they will return to work this year,” said outgoing Indian Industries Association President Kush Puri.
The answer lies in the refugee camps in Kandhla, Khairana and Bassikalan. These camps house Muslims who fled their villages in Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Baghpat districts, and many of them claim they will never return. “My family of 16 left Lisarh village on September 8 and we will never go back. Our homes have been reduced to cinders. How can we go back? I will find work in Kandhla,” said Nafees Khan. Residents of other villages share the sentiment.
Moreover, the violence comes at a time when the sugar industry is deadlocked with the state government. On Friday, 30 village pradhans from Kandhla met Union Minister and RLD leader Ajit Singh over arrears owed to sugarcane farmers. “There is no government policy to fix rates and every year farmers suffer. The crop is harvested from October onwards but we get paid only seven or eight months later. The minister has assured us we will be paid all arrears before the new season starts,” said Vinod Chaudhary, pradhan from Makhmulpur.
Sources in the district administration said they were working to address the issue. “The most important thing is to ensure the safety of villagers and convince them to return. This will take at least two months,” said an official.
But two months later is when sugar production is supposed to start. “No harvest will mean nothing to crush in the mills, which will bring down sugar production and raise rates. Also, allied industries like paper and distilleries are dependent on the sugarcane crop,” said Puri, who feels this would lead to an increase in the price of sugar.
Chaudhary said farmers are in for trouble: “We have not been paid for the last harvest. If this crop is not utilised, it will mean the next crop of wheat will be delayed