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Amid extended lockdown, Maharashtra’s cane-cutters seek help to return home

Over 1.5 lakh sugar cane-cutters from Beed and Ahmednagar districts in the sugar belt of Maharashtra have demanded the State government’s help to return home.

While imposing a lockdown, the State government had asked migrant sugarcane cutters to stay close to sugar mills and not return home. It had further ordered sugar mills to take care of them. However, with the lockdown extended till May 3, they want to return.

“Some sugar mills have arranged accommodation, food and other requirements while other mills have released the cane-cutters. Those who want to return to their villages have been stopped at their district borders and asked to go on quarantine,” said Dhananjay Munde, State Social Justice Minister, in a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

He demanded that the State government help cane-cutters return to their villages. The livestock with the cane-cutters are also struggling to survive because of fodder scarcity, he added.

Vulnerable group

Cane-cutters typically migrate to western Maharashtra, leaving behind their spouses, children and aged parents. The cutters themselves, as well as their aged parents, fall in the high-risk group for Covid-19, said Munde.

Beed-based activist Ashok Tangade said the poor are vulnerable to crises, being the first ones to get affected. “Sugar mills continued to crush cane even as other establishments were closed during the lockdown. However, cane-cutters are left in the lurch after the crushing season is over,” he said.

Tangade added that every season, over 8 lakh cane-cutters from Beed district and another 4 lakh from other districts in Marathwada migrate to the sugar belt of the State. “However, there is no official registration of sugarcane-cutters and hence it becomes difficult for them to get the benefits of government schemes,” said Tangade.

About 15 quarantine centres have been started in Beed for cane-cutters who are returning, said Tangade. However, many villages do not want them back for fear of infection.

In Jat taluka nearing the Karnataka border, about 30 cane-cutters who returned home were allegedly beaten up by the villagers and forced to leave. They were taken to the primary health centre for check-ups, following which they were quarantined.