The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought response from the Centre and State governments on a plea seeking appropriate directions to pay the pending dues to the sugarcane producers.
A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana issued notices to many sugarcane growing State governments and Centre and posted the matter for hearing after three weeks.
The petition was filed by a former Member of Parliament from the Hatkanangle constituency in Lok Sabha Raju Anna Sheti and four agriculturists from Maharashtra.
Senior advocate Anand Grover appearing for petitioner Sheti argued that the issue is related to sugarcane growers who are supposed to be paid their dues but have not been paid their dues at all.
It has accumulated to Rs 18,000 crore, Advocate Grover argued.
The plea sought a mechanism by which the price of sugarcane production is paid to farmers as per law in order to avoid the accumulation of such dues and to prevent farmers from vicious cycle when a sugar mill is declared sick and their dues of sugarcane produce remained unpaid.
States have failed to perform their legal duty cast upon them by the State Legislations to ensure the payment of the cane price along with interest on the arrears of the sugar cane price to be paid to farmers and upon the corresponding obligation which is cast upon the sugar mills/factories, the petition stated.
The PIL further urged the apex court to direct the governments to release some ad hoc payments to the sugarcane growers against their outstanding dues.
As of April 8, 2020, the sugar mills had purchased sugarcane worth Rs 28,000 crores, but paid only Rs 15,430 crores, plea added.
"Due to deteriorating conditions of sugar mills, their inability to pay cane dues and the acts of omission and commission on part of the respondent State governments land the Central government and the concerned authorities, the Petitioners are constrained to approach this Court to seek directions against the respondents, who have failed to comply with their statutory obligations to pay the dues of poor farmers as per the timelines stipulated under Sugar (Control) Order, 1966," stated the petition.
It said that in a country like India, where agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for 58 per cent of the population, non-payment of dues to farmers causes grave prejudice to the fundamental right of livelihood, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, of the farmers and their families, who are completely dependent on the income generated through the agriculture process of cultivation of sugarcane.
"On one hand cane growers are not paid their dues for years and on other, they are being saddled upon with recovery notices for non-payment of their outstanding agricultural loan amount. The pending dues of cane growers running in thousands of crores of Rupees due to unreasonable delay in payment by sugar mills/factories which is causing grave financial hardships to the sugar cane growers lead to serious social problems causing social unrest who have no other source of income and is the cause of the suicide of farmers," it was contended in the plea.
The petition sought direction to the Centre and State governments to file affidavits setting out the details of the amounts due, the amounts paid and arrears by the sugar mills to the sugarcane grower or their cooperatives for sale of their cane along with interest thereon at 15% on year-wise from 2018 to 2020.
Union of India and States to place on record the details of actions taken by them against sugar mills/factories for non-payment of dues and arrears along with interest, plea requested.
It also asked for direction to States to attach the sugar stocks lying with sugar mills/factories and sell the same and pay the amounts so realized to the sugar cane growers or their cooperative society.
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