Ground Report: Workers, Farmers Still Wait For Crores in Pending Dues From Chakia Sugar Mill That Shut Down 25 Years Ago
Former workers have alleged that BJP MP & ex-agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh along with other local leaders, has misappropriated the mill's assets.
Purvi Champaran (Bihar): Chakia Sugar Mill is situated just 15 kms from BJP MP and former Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh’s native village. The mill closed down around 25 years ago due to which around 1200 workers lost their livelihoods and thousands of farmers sustained losses worth crores. In 2014, when Singh was made the Agriculture Minister by the Modi government, the people here expected an end to their woes. However, they now say that Singh has made no efforts towards starting the mill, and even accuse him and other local leaders of misappropriating the mill’s assets.
Among those affected by the shutting down of the Chakia sugar mill is Amiri Yadav, a native of Chhapra district who currently runs a small shop opposite the mill. He says that his father used to work at the mill, and he was also appointed as an electrician’s helper here in 1989. “The mill had been running losses well before I joined. It finally closed down in 1994. We became jobless. The mill still owes me around Rs 2 lakh rupees,” he said, adding that he’s currently engaged in a legal battle at the Allahabad High Court to recover the money.
90-year-old Shiv Prasad Sharma, who worked as a broiler in-charge at mill, has a similar story to tell. He earns a pension of Rs 1,000 per month and is owed Rs 2 lakh by the mill. “I have no expectations from the government. I just want it to return the money so I can be free.”
According to the sugarcane production department of the Bihar government, there are a total of 28 sugar mills in the state. Out of these, 15 were owned by the state govt and all of them have now shut down. Kanpur-based British India Corporation (BIC), a PSU under the Union Textile Ministry, owned Chakia sugar mill and two other mills in the state. The remaining 10 are owned by private companies.
Why did Chakia mill shut down?
Laxmi Prasad, the general secretary of the Chakia Sugar Mill Employees’ Union, said the mill was already running losses since 1985 due to multiple reasons. “Around 1989-90, the officers raised their own salaries substantially which added additional burden. Then, more loans had to be taken which became impossible to pay. The mill was officially closed down on September 5, 1994.” Champaran Sugar Co. Ltd, the BIC subsidiary that owns the mill, filed a case in the Allahabad High Court after the mill was shut down.
He adds that the Allahabad HC ordered the mill to be auctioned off. In 2001-02, a Motihari-based businessman Vishnukant Gupta bought the mill for Rs 5 crore. He had assured the court that he would make the mill operational again.
Crores in pending dues
Gupta was under pressure from banks to pay-off Rs 5 crore owed to them by the mill. While these debts were paid off, the pending dues of employees and farmers were not repaid.
Laxmi Prasad said that around 1200 people were employed at the mill, to whom Rs 3 crore in salaries and other dues is owed. Similarly, the mill is yet to pay sugarcane farmers around Rs 4 crore.
He says that since the Allahabad HC got Gupta to pay off the money owed to banks, the dues of workers and farmers should also be cleared. “Our fight is now before the court. The court has ordered that the dues of workers should be cleared in two instalments. However, no order has been issued regarding the payment to farmers.”
What do the former mill workers do now?
Hundreds of the workers have died since the mill shut down. Many others, who are over 60 years of age, are given a pension of Rs 1,000 a month. The remaining work either as labourers or run small shops to sustain themselves. They had been allocated a living quarter each by the mill, which they are asked to vacate from time-to-time.
The workers still have hope that the mill will be revived by the government one day and they will have regular employment again.
Sugarcane farmers hit hard
Madan Sahni, a resident of the Kalyanpur village near Chakia town, says that since the mill shut down, sugarcane farmers in the area have to travel further in order to sell their produce. This increases their cost and shrinks already dwindling profits, forcing many farmers to change their crop.
He adds that since they’ve been forced stop cultivation of sugarcane, their income has halved as growing wheat or rice are not as profitable. He hold local politicians responsible for the mill shutting down.
Discontent against Radha Mohan Singh
People expressed their disappointment against Radha Mohan Singh. They allege that instead of helping to revive the mill, he further paved way of its desolation. Naval Kishore Thakur, a local, said, “Radha Mohan Singh only gets a cattle fair organised here. He has done no other substantial work. Even as agriculture minister, Singh never visited us. He is also behind the misappropriation of the mill’s assets.”
Out of the three sugar mills in Purvi Champaran district, 2 mills — Motihari and Chakia — have been shut for years. Motihari mill workers have also been demanding payment of salaries and other benefits since the mill shut down in 2003. In 2017, two former workers of the Motihari mill — Naresh Shrivastava and Suraj Baitha— had warned that they would commit suicide by self-immolation. However, the administration paid no heed to this and the two died by setting themselves on fire on the mill campus.
NewsCentral24x7 contacted Radha Mohan Singh but his assistant said he was not available. This story will be updated once we receive a response.