A fraud company swindles millions off farmers in Lamjung and TanahunPolice in Lamjung say they have not received any formal complaint against the company representatives who have been out of contact for almost a year now.
Two years ago, on December 29, 2017, the Association of Agriculture Nepal (AAN), an organisation marketing itself as a pro-farmers entity, established a branch office at Jhingekhola in Besishahar, Lamjung.
The association allegedly headquartered in Kohalpur, Banke, soon published a vacancy notice calling for networking officers on a local daily. It received applications from 110 candidates, of which the company hired 50 of them promising a monthly salary of Rs10,000. But the employment entailed one condition: the newly hired officers would have to set up 15 farmers’ groups with at least 20 members and collect Rs500 from each farmer as a registration fee.
The amount, according to the company, would go into helping farmers obtain seeds, saplings, chickens, improved breeds of goats and buffaloes. The employees were given four months to accomplish the job.
Sapana Ghimire of Jita village in Madhya Nepal Municipality was one of the best performing hires. She roped in 217 farmers to join the network of farmers’ groups and collected Rs440,000, which she handed it over to, Mina Gurung Shrestha, the AAN branch chief.
Likewise, Sharmila Ghimire persuaded 200 farmers to join the network and collected Rs400,000 from them. Another AAN employee Bikash Gurung formed farmers’ groups of 220 members and Babita Ghale brought together 200 farmers to join the network.
As promised, the company paid them Rs10,000 each for the job successfully done. Those officers who couldn’t meet the target were asked to resign.
Altogether, the company collected Rs2 million from about 2,500 farmers through its networking scheme. It also raised another Rs 3.64 million from the farmers who had joined the network as “active membership” fees. Each farmer was asked to pay Rs 1,500 each to become active members.
The active members were promised seeds and saplings of various plants, vegetables and trees. However, the farmers didn’t receive any of that.
“We haven’t heard from the officials since,” said Lal Bahadur Gurung, one of the farmers.
Sobika Gurung, one of the officers hired by the company for the networking job, said: “Even though we collected the said amount and provided it to the company officials, the farmers have received nothing in return.”
The branch chief, Shrestha, has been out of contact since April 5 last year, according to the networking officers who were hired by the fraudulent company to pull off its scheme.
“After we were hired, we visited many villages and persuaded farmers to form groups with the promise of agricultural support,” Sharmila Ghimire told the Post. “The company officials not only tricked the farmers, but they also made our lives difficult. We no longer have the courage to face the community.”
Sharmila added that she couldn’t get hold of the company officials despite repeated attempts.
The cell phones of Ganesh Dutta Bhatta, owner of the company; Rajesh Chaudhary, programme coordinator; Mina Gurung Shrestha, branch office chief; and another official Maya Gurung are switched off.
After learning that they had been deceived, the farmers seized some of the networking officers and handed them to the police.
Sapana, who helped generate Rs 440,000 for the runaway company, said the AAN officials had fled with Rs7 million cash paid by poor farmers.
Kumar Parajuli, the landlord of the building where the company had set up its branch office, was also duped. The company owes him rent money of 14 months.
“The office had agreed to pay a monthly rent of Rs9,000. The rent payment was regular for the first three months. After that, I haven’t received anything,” Parajuli said.
Meanwhile, complaints against the company have also been reported in various other districts.
Farmers in Kurlung in Byas Municipality Ward No. 12 have also been swindled by the association.
“They collected at least Rs2,000 from each of us, promising to help us in agriculture projects,” said Minaraj Panthi, a farmer in Kurlung. “But now we don’t know where they are. They have run away with our hard-earned money.”
The Post learned that the company had also deceived farmers in Bandipur Rural Municipality Ward No. 1.
Lamjung Police said it had not received any formal complaint related to the incident.
“The police haven’t yet received a formal complaint,” said DSP Rabindra Man Gurung of Lamjung Police. “We will launch an investigation once we are formally notified about it.”
(Samjhana Rasaili contributed reporting from Tanahu.)