No sugar lobby pressure on me: CM

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Belgaum: Nov 29, 2013 DHNS:  Twenty-four hours after the suicide of sugar cane grower Vithal Bhimappa Arabhavi, a visibly ‘worried’ and tired Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was found in damage-control mode on Thursday morning.

He was found calculating his next political move to counter the Opposition in the legislature, at the Inspection Bungalow in Belgaum.

He emphatically said that he was not controlled by sugar lobby, which is strong in Belgaum.

Siddaramaiah had summoned his trusted officers and intelligence officials to find out what was happening in the Opposition camps and how best to tackle them.

Deccan Herald caught up with the chief minister at his temporary office in Belgaum, minutes before he was to leave for the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha. Excerpts from the interaction:

DH:  Why was there a delay in announcing the incentive or support price for sugar cane growers?

Chief Minister: The government never delayed in announcing the purchase price for sugar cane or the support price for the farmers.

Prior to the Assembly session, we had a series of talks with K S Puttannaiah, MLA and leader of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha to end the unrest among sugar cane growers and he agreed to the prices.

In parts of old Mysore, farmers have already begun selling the sugar cane to factories at the price agreed to by the farmers and the government.

If farmers are not happy, they would not have accepted the price or begun selling the produce.

DH: So why did you not announce it in the Assembly?

I had previously stated that I will announce the measures as part of my reply to the debate on the sugar cane growers’ problems. But I never got an opportunity to speak in the last three days because the Opposition members were speaking. Who was to imagine that such a tragedy will occur in the meantime?

But it was a fact that farmers were agitated over many issues and the KRRS faction of Kodihalli Chandrashekar and others agitated here.

The farmers were agitating for close to three months and they came here, keeping the winter session of the legislature in mind. We had even sent four ministers in the last three days as emissaries to the agitating farmers and bring them to the table for discussions. I am not aware about factions in KRRS.

DH: Your key minister Satish Jarkiholi owns sugar factories. Sugar Minister Prakash Hukkeri’s association with sugar industries is well known. Horticulture Minister Shamanur Shivashankarappa is also a owner of sugar factories. Are your decisions controlled by the strong sugar lobby?

Be it Jarkiholi or Hukkeri, none brought any pressure on me to decide the prices for sugar cane. They did not interfere in the government’s stand on fixing the prices.

Hukkeri does not even own a sugar factory. The prices were decided upon after it was discussed at the sugar control board meeting where all factory owners, farmers and government representatives are members. The purchase price of
Rs 2,500 plus Rs 150 from the government side for a tonne is a good offer at a time when the prices of sugar have crashed.

DH: So what measures is the government contemplating against sugar factories who do not abide by the price fixed?

The government has certain statutory powers under Sections 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the Karnataka Sugarcane (Purchase and Supply Control) Act, 2013, to prosecute sugar factory owners and even cancel their licences.

There are also provisions which state that it is mandatory to pay the farmers within 14 days of procuring the yield by the factories. These clauses will be invoked.

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