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BEASTS OF BURDEN

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by Dr Sonali Sarnobat member- KAWB

Harvesting, Bundling, Loading and Transportation to Sugarcane Centers Sugar factories become operational in mid-October and continue to operate until March or April, depending upon the availability of sugarcane. In July-August, the sugar factories conduct a survey of the sugarcane area allotted to them by the State Sugarcane Commissioner. They then prepare a plan (quota) of sugarcane to be supplied by each grower.

The quantity of sugarcane supplied by each grower is distributed over the entire crushing season and supply tokens are issued accordingly. The sugar mills operate through collection centers that they open at various places within their command area. These centers issue a slip (parchi) to the farmers that prescribe the dates when their sugarcane will be weighed.

The sugarcane is usually harvested a day before it is to be supplied to the centers so that it does not lose its moisture content and weighs more so as to maximize profits. To accomplish this, workers work round the clock to harvest the sugarcane from the farms.

While small farmers involve their family in harvesting and transporting the sugarcane to the collection centers, the medium and large farmers hire contractors who bring labor either from the nearby villages or arrange migrant workers. The migrants’ families, including children, are involved in harvesting, bundling and loading. It was noticed during interviews that the workers are paid between INR 150-180 per ton of sugarcane harvested. Harvesting is a hazardous task, as it involves the use of machetes without any protection.

Moreover, workers often work without shoes in the fields, exposing them to risks of snake and scorpion bites. The farmer and/or his driver attaches the loaded trolley behind the tractor and ferries it to the designated sugarcane center.

The administrator at the sugarcane production center weighs the sugarcane and issues a slip recording the total net weight supplied by the farmer. The sugarcane is then loaded onto trucks by the contracted labor of the sugar mill. The loading contractor is paid INR 20 per ton. Loading is a dangerous task, and accidents are frequent. Chopping loaded sugarcane so that it fits better on the trolleys or trucks has its own risks. The transporter, who is paid INR 100-150 per ton, depending upon the distance, transports sugarcane from the center to the sugar mill. The drivers of the trucks are always at risk, as most of the trucks are over-loaded and often topple due to poor road conditions. Payment to the farmer is generally made a month after the sugarcane has been supplied.

The farmer produces his supply slip at the payment counter of the mill and, after verification, payment is made at the declared rate.

Unloading Sugarcane at Sugar Mill

Sugarcane arrives at a sugar factory in bullock-carts, tractor-driven trolleys or trucks. After the gate-entry is completed, the sugarcane is weighed at the weighbridge and placed near the loading conveyor under the “punja,” a mechanical device controlled by a manually operated overhead crane that grips the sugarcane and releases it onto the conveyor. Another method for unloading the sugarcane is by manually tying a steel rope around the bundles of sugarcane and hauling the bundles by the over-head crane onto the conveyor.

It is common for the district farmers to use bullock carts to transport sugarcane and normally 5 to 8 tonnes of sugarcane is transported on a cart. But for a while now there has been a competition as to whose cart can carry more weight which has led to a sugarcane loading craze. The new record belongs to Sharat who had purchased a pair of bullocks for Rs. 2.90 lakh recently. The cart was modified with tractor tyres and axles to handle the load.

Bullock-cart owners are reportedly encouraged to overload bullocks through incentives offered by sugar factories. The animals are often forced to pull loads twice the size of what a normal, healthy bullock could pull. The excessive weight causes bullocks to suffer from swollen knees, necks and shoulders, and the strain impairs their immune systems and shortens their lives. It is common to find bullock carts so overloaded with sugarcane that the animals have a difficult time walking. It is also common to find two to three people sitting on top of each cart, adding to the weight. The bullocks struggle, breathe heavily and froth at the mouth. Most do not receive even a drop of water while working.

bullock cart cane

It happened in Pune – Based on evidence obtained by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, the Judicial Magistrate Court of Indupur issued a notice against Shri Chaatrapati Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana Ltd (SCSSK) for violating the Prevention of Cruelty to Draught and Pack Animals, 1965, by exceeding the allowable weight of 2,800 kilograms per bullock cart. After local police failed to take action – even though bullocks struggling with illegally overloaded carts pass right in front of the police station – PETA obtained receipts of payments made to bullock-cart owners by the sugarcane factory that clearly indicate that loads were far in excess of the legal limit. SCSSK’s board of directors appealed the issuance to the Baramati Session Court, which will rule on the matter on 10 June.

“Just by the way the animals strain every muscle and can barely walk, anyone can see that these bullock carts are overloaded”, says PETA India Director of Veterinary Affairs Dr Manilal Valliyate. “We hope that this court ruling will put the sugarcane factories on notice that their days of flouting the law and tormenting working animals are numbered.”

It is seen similarly in Karnataka even in Belagavi district that this practice is rampant.

Bullock carts are loaded heavily almost more than 3-4 tonns.

The Sugar factories in the vicinity should areange for proper pickup and transport of the sugarcane.

Dr Sonali Sarnobat BJP leader and Social activist, now a member of Animal welfare board of Karnataka has raised this issue with the Minister of Animal Husbandary and fisheries Mr Prabhu Chouhan as well as local SP and DC. They have assured immediate action on it.

1 thought on “BEASTS OF BURDEN”

  1. In his total commitment to nonviolence, Gandhi always included the animals, stating, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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