UP sugar bowl in focus during pollsUP sugar bowl in focus during polls

Virendra Singh Rawat

The electioneering for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls is gaining traction in the Jatland and the sugarcane belt of Western Uttar Pradesh.

Nearly 5 million households are associated with cane farming in UP with the annual cane economy estimated at Rs 50,000 crore.

UP is the country’s top sugarcane, sugar and ethanol producer. In 2022-23 season, the state cane area and production stood at nearly 2.85 million hectares (MH) and 235 million tonnes (MT) respectively.

There are a total of 120 sugar mills with the private sector accounting for the largest share of 93 plants.

While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on cane payments of over Rs 2.25 trillion since 2017 apart from hiking the state cane price and boosting the ethanol sector, the opposition camp led by the Samajwadi Party (SP) is raising the issue of arrears and miniscule hike in the prices of cash and staple crops.

Earlier, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath claimed loans of 8.6 million farmers had been waived off since 2017 in contrast to the farmers committing suicide during previous regimes.

In January 2024, the Yogi government hiked the UP cane price by Rs 20 per quintal (100 kg) from Rs 350 per quintal to Rs 370 for early maturing varieties; from Rs 340 to Rs 360 for common varieties; and from Rs 335 to Rs 355 for late maturing or unsuitable cane varieties.

Moreover, ahead of the LS polls, the BJP forged a pre-poll alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) to mollify cane farmers in Western UP.

Although sugarcane is cultivated across the state, yet the cash crop is predominantly grown in Western UP with districts such as Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Bareilly, Shamli, Baghpat and Saharanpur leading the chart.

Polling in the multi-phase Lok Sabha elections in UP started from Western UP districts. As such, the vigorous focus of the parties on the sugar bowl is plausible.

In his rallies, CM Adityanath harps upon the prompt cane payments by his dispensation vis-à-vis earlier regimes, when payments were allegedly delayed for years together with the farmers at the receiving end.

Interestingly, the BJP overture to farmers transcends beyond sugarcane, but encompasses the farming community including peasants and sharecroppers across the 75 districts.

Of the estimated 23 million farm households in UP, almost 21 million or over 90 percent are small and marginal farmers having fragmented land holdings.

The small and marginal farmers were provided with a Rs 36,000 crore farm loan waiver scheme when Adityanath government 1.0 took over reins in March 2017.

UP, would witness polling in 7 phases viz. April 19, 26, May 7, 13, 20, 25 and June 1.

In the first phase on April 19, eight Western UP constituencies witnessed polling viz. Pilibhit, Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Nagina, Moradabad, and Rampur.

In the second phase on April 26, eight other constituencies went to polls including Amroha, Meerut, Mathura, Baghpat, Aligarh, Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar and Bulandshahar.

In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) won 64 of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won 10, followed by the SP 5 and Congress one.

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