Sugarcane farmers have yet to be paid Rs 192 million as their agreement signed with the government expired on Monday.
Sugarcane farmers, who had been staging protests in Kathmandu for over two weeks, had withdrawn their protest for the time being after a four-point agreement was reached between them and the government in Kathmandu on December 28, 2020.
During a meeting between the Sugarcane Farmers’ Struggle Committee and officials of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies on the day of the agreement, the Ministry had agreed to make sugar mill owners pay the farmers’ dues within three weeks.
It had also agreed to take legal action against sugar mill owners with coordination from stakeholders concerned if the latter fail to clear dues within the stipulated time.
According to the details submitted by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies (MoICS) to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), sugar mills have so far paid only Rs 513.8 million out of the total outstanding due of Rs 705.8 million.
Premlal Lamichhane, information officer at MoHA said, “As of Monday afternoon, mill owners have provided Rs 513.8 million to sugarcane farmers. That is only 72.79 percent. As much as Rs 192 million has yet to be received.”
Prior to the December agreement, another agreement had been reached between sugarcane farmers and the government in the presence of Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatta on Jan 3, 2020.
As per the agreement, the Ministry had agreed to coordinate and facilitate to make arrangements for the sugar industrialists to pay the entire arrears by January 21, 2020.
At that time, the farmers were convinced that they would be paid as the agreement was reached on presence of Minister Bhatta, but they faced a bitter disappointment.
“Even though the Ministry’s secretary was present for the second time, we were skeptic that mill owners would make full payment,” said Harishyam Raya, secretary of the Sugarcane Farmers’ Struggle Committee.
“The Ministry has not given a detailed record of how much the industrialists paid to which farmers. Ministry employees do not pick up our phone calls when we call them to ask about payments. Now we will hold a meeting on Tuesday and make further decisions,” said Raya.
A member of the Struggle Committee Rakesh Mishra also complained that the Committee was not informed about the amount paid to the farmers. He said that sugar mill owners and the Ministry of Industry had yet again proved that their intention was to deceive farmers.
“We have asked for the name of the farmers, their bank account details, and the record of the amount deposited in their accounts for record keeping and verification. But the Ministry has not provided us the information. Farmers have only received partial payment and we are not satisfied with what we received,” said Mishra.
According to the details sent to MoHA by MoICS, Annapurna Sugar Mill has yet to pay Rs 170 million out of Rs 705.7 million arrears.
Information Officer Lamichhane informed that Annapurna had paid farmers Rs 114.7 million in one month. The Ministry said that Lumbini Sugar Mill had paid Rs 41.6 million out of Rs 84.1 million, Shri Ram Sugar Mill had paid Rs 357.5 million out of Rs 404.7 million and Indira Sugar Mill has not a single penny of its outstanding Rs 47 million dues.
“Arrest warrants have been issued to non-paying industries. The District Administration Office is doing its job,” said Lamichhane.
Spokesperson at MoICS, Narayan Regmi, claimed that the farmers were receiving payment and were in touch with the Ministry. He added that it would be wrong to say that sugar mill owners had not paid as they have paid more than Rs 500 million this month.
“Some mill owners have sold their land, while some have even sold their mills to clear their dues. There is also a technical committee to solve the farmers’ problem,” Regmi said.