House panel tells government to make sugar mills pay farmers their moneyProtesting cane growers from Sarlahi say they have not been paid for five years.
Legislators acted to get sugar mills to pay sugarcane farmers for their crops after growers from Sarlahi arrived in Kathmandu to protest that they had not received their money for five years.
The parliamentary Industry, Commerce, Labour and Consumer Interest Protection Committee on Monday directed the government to make the non-paying factories clear their debts which amount to millions of rupees.
The House panel also directed the government to take action against recalcitrant sugar mills withholding payment to the farmers.
In June last year too, the Home Ministry had directed the District Administration Offices to take action against proprietors of four sugar mills—Annapurna Sugar, Sarlahi; Everest Sugar and Chemicals Industries, Mahottari and Indira Sugar Mills and Bagmati Sugar Mills in Nawalparasi—to pay the farmers.
The Home Ministry moved after farmers complained that they depend on the money to feed their families. But farmers say they have been constantly cheated despite repeated warnings from the authorities.
According to the Nepal Sugarcane Producers Federation, Shree Ram Sugar Mills owes Rs420 million, Annapurna Sugar Rs400 million, Indira Sugar Mills Rs100 million, Lumbini Sugar Mills Rs100 million, Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills Rs200 million and Bagmati Sugar Mills Rs110 million to the farmers for their sugarcane.
Committee Secretary Krishna Hari Khadka told the Post that they would officially write to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies on Tuesday directing them to make arrangements to clear the farmers' unpaid dues as soon as possible.
Sugar mill owners have been saying that they have not been able to pay the farmers for lack of cash as they have large stocks of unsold sugar in their warehouses.
Bishnu Timilsina, deputy general secretary of the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights Nepal, accused the government of protecting the factory owners because they make large donations to the political parties.
“Sugar mills have been cheating farmers and consumers as well,” he said, adding that they had been cheating the government saying they were incurring losses.
Sugarcane farmers make a profit of Rs20-25 per kg of sugar and consumers are being cheated, he added. “Factory owners do not have any transparent audit report on the overall production of sugar, and they do not provide any details when asked to do so,” said Timilsina.
According to him, mill owners import sugar cheaply from India in collusion with the administration and the police, and repackage it as a Nepali product.
The agitating farmers said that they would stay in Kathmandu and continue their protest unless they get their payment. “This time we are not going to trust the government. We need our payment at any cost,” said Rajesh Yadav, secretary of the Sugarcane Farmers Struggling Committee.
“On several occasions before, the government had promised us that it would make the factory owners pay the farmers. We have heard the statement around 10 times, but the result is always zero.”
Yadav said that they would not return home without payment as they have to repay bank loans which they had taken to plant their crops. “Besides, we have to pay our children’s school and college fees, hospital charges and daily household expenses,” he said. “We have no options left now,” he added. “We will agitate.”
Kapil Muni Mainali, president of the Nepal Sugarcane Producers Federation, said that Annapurna Sugar Mill, Shree Ram Sugar Mill, Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill and three other sugar mills in Nawalparasi have shut down operations.
“The owners have been saying that they will not be able to keep their factories open if they make payment to the farmers,” he said.
The protesting farmers also expressed their grievances to the House committee.