HYDERABAD: Organisations representing farmers that are involved in an ongoing conflict with the Sindh government and the sugar mills have shut the door on further negotiations over the price of sugar cane. The announcement was made on Sunday after several rounds of meetings since September, including one chaired by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah in Karachi on December 15, among the three stakeholders remained inconclusive.
"On December 23 thousands of farmers will stage a sit-in on the National Highway near the bypass [in Hyderabad]. And we will not leave the place until our demand is accepted," declared Qabool Muhammad Khatian, president of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture (SCA), at a press conference at SCA's office in Hyderabad on Sunday. Before the press conference, the Joint Sugarcane Growers Action Committee, comprising the SCA, Sindh Abadgar Board, Sindh Abadgar Ittehad and Sindh Agriculture and Research Council, held a meeting.
The Sindh government belatedly issued a notification on December 5 - under Sindh Sugar Factories Control Act, 1950, the government has to notify rates by October every year - fixing the price of sugar cane at Rs182 per 40 kilogrammes. However, farmers complain that in blatant violation of the officially fixed price, the mills in Sindh are paying between Rs130 and Rs140 rate.
CM vows to end deadlock between sugar cane farmers, mill owners
The farmers’ protests, which started in October, resumed with heightened fury after the first week of December and last week hundreds of farmers were baton charged and tear gassed on the way to Bilawal House in Karachi.
"We will not hold another meeting with the government. If the Rs182 notification is not enforced by December 22, we will stage an indefinite protest from the next day," Khatian warned.
Sindh Abadgar Board Vice-President Mehmood Nawaz Shah said the farmers felt compelled to take to protests because of the government and Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA). He claimed that the country's sugar production never before reached the seven million ton mark nor had the government ever paid a Rs20 billion subsidy to the sugar mills in advance.
"The federal and Sindh governments have paid Rs20 billion as export subsidy to the mills but they are still begrudging the Rs182 price for the crop," Nawaz said, arguing that the alleged defiance on the part of the mills violated not only the government's notification but also the 1950 Act. "PSMA has trampled on the notification."
Sindh Abadgar Ittehad's Nawaz Zubair Talpur said the sit-in will be the historically biggest farmers' protest in Sindh. He complained that delay in the cane harvest is delaying the wheat sowing.