Though ‘betrayed’ sugarcane farmers still hope to get payments

Khabarhub

February 13, 2020

7 MIN READ

Though ‘betrayed’ sugarcane farmers still hope to get payments

Sugarcane farmers stage demonstration in Kathmandu. (File Photo/Khabarhub)

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KATHMANDU: Despite assurances from the sugar mill operators and the government, several sugarcane farmers are yet to receive payments for their produce since 2013.

The farmers, in fact, feel betrayed not to have received the money that they owe from the mill operators but are equally disappointed with the government’s apathy.

On 29th December 2019, sugarcane farmers from various districts of the Terai staged protests in the country’s capital, Kathmandu demanding that they get paid what they are owed.

Amid protests, representatives of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI) called on the government to take action on the mill owners, who are alleged of dillydallying to make the payments to the farmers.

On the 2nd of January 2020, the agitated sugarcane farmers gave the government a seven-day ultimatum. After almost a week of protests, the farmers warned of launching a nation-wide protest if their demands were not met within the stipulated time.

During a meeting with sugarcane farmers held at the Ministry of Industry in the second week of January, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokharel, Industry Minister Lekhraj Bhatta and Agriculture Minister Ghanshyam Bhusal vowed to clear all the outstanding payment of the sugarcane farmers by January 21.

Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplier, Lekhraj Bhatta went on to say that the problems between the sugar mills and the farmers would be resolved by the third week of the month giving a sigh of relief to the farmers.

Farmers were waiting for payments totaling over Rs 1 billion. However, the government failed to stick to its words.

Furthermore, the government authorities and the concerned mill operators need to investigate whether the subsidies and price floors set to help the farmers have been placed in the hands of the right people.

Observers are of the notion that the sugar mill owners must be brought to justice and the complicity between the mill owners and local politicians must be looked into thoroughly.

It should be noted that the Annapurna Sugar Mill has paid Rs 5 million of the dues owed to farmers on the 2nd and 3rd of February while making promises to clear all their dues by the second week of February.

The amount that this single sugar mill owed farmers still stood at Rs 420 million. The owner of the mill, Rakesh Agrawal had made commitments to pay Rs 50 million by the 10th of January, another Rs 120 million by the third week of January and the rest of the amount by the second week of February.

The protests were called off at the end of the week after the government made a five-point agreement with the sugarcane farmers. In the agreement, the MoICS had pledged to make the sugar mills clear all the dues to farmers by the 21st of January.

According to the sugarcane farmers, it is mainly six sugar mills that have been refusing to clear their outstanding payments of approximately Rs 1.33 billion that has been building up for over 5 years.

As per the agreement between the farmers and MoICS, 80 percent of the dues were supposed to be paid off by the 9th of January. That, however, did not materialize.

Despite the government’s pressure on sugar mills to clear their debts, sugarcane farmers are still worried as the mills still haven’t made payments to all accounts.

At this point, with only a week remaining till the deadline, the farmers were starting to lose hope once more. The President of Nepal Sugarcane Producers Federation, Kapil Muni Mainali said that the farmers are yet to receive Rs 800 million out of more than Rs 1 billion that the mills still owe to them.

The day of the deadline, 21st January came and passed. According to a source at MoICS, sugar mills have paid only around Rs 160 million out of the money that they owe the farmers.

The breakdown of the money owed to the farmers was as follows: Rs 420 million from Annapurna Sugar Mills, Rs 267.70 million from Shree Ram Sugar Mills, Rs 117.50 million from Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills, Rs 110 million from Bagmati Sugar Mills and Rs 100 million from Lumbini Sugar Mills. The mills at this point were requesting that the government extend the deadline for them to clear all the dues.

On January 23, the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation instructed Nepal Rastra Bank, the country’s central bank, to freeze all bank accounts of the operators of Annapurna Sugar Mill and Lumbini Sugar Mill.

For their failure to comply with the government’s orders of clearing their payments, the two sugar mills will also have their transactions and financial books checked by the Department of Revenue Investigation.

Despite the government’s pressure on sugar mills to clear their debts, sugarcane farmers are still worried as the mills still haven’t made payments to all accounts.

Hopeful after being promised almost a month ago that they will receive what they are owed, on the 27th of January, farmers met with Minister Lekhraj Bhatta and shared their sorrows with the minister. The cost of production of sugar has been rising over the years and on top of that, the farmers are facing a financial crisis that only seems to be getting worse at the moment.

(Reported by Swastik Aryal, Akash Shrestha, Nitish Lal Shrestha, and Diana Zulkifli)

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