Protesting farmers unconvinced they will be paid soon despite assurancesThe protest started Sunday with about 50 farmers but the number is growing even as sugar mills say that they have begun the process to pay arrears.
Sugarcane farmers are unconvinced that the different sugar mills will pay them the due amounts soon despite assurances by the government.
Following the visit of Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekh Raj Bhatta to the protest site at Maitighar Mandala on Friday, different sugar mills have issued press statements saying that the arrears are being deposited in the farmers’ bank accounts.
“There is no clear procedure on the payment to farmers and we do not know when the dues will be cleared,” said Rakesh Mishra, patron of Sugarcane Farmer Struggle Committee. “There is a difference between making a commitment to pay and actually paying.”
According to Mishra, Minister Bhatta showed the protesting farmers payment details sent by Shree Ram Sugar Mill, which has Rs160 million in its bank account and informed them that the process of payment by the mill and other sugar mills would start from Sunday.
But Mishra says that the government should not only focus on mills that owe amounts more than Rs10 million.
There are about 15 sugar mills in the country and while the government has only been focussing on the ones that owe more than Rs10 million, smaller amounts also mean a lot to the farmers.
“The mill owners do not count dues less than Rs5 million which is a huge amount for farmers and labourers,” Mishra said. “Mill owners with smaller dues have not been making payments on different pretexts saying that farmers have not opened bank accounts.”
The protest of the sugarcane farmers began on Sunday with about 50 farmers mainly from Sarlahi but as of Saturday 300 sugarcane farmers have arrived from Sarlahi, Rautahat, Nawalparasi and Kapilvastu, according to Mishra.
Students and others have also joined the protests in solidarity with the farmers.
Parliament’s Industry, Commerce, Labour and Consumer Interest Protection Committee on Thursday had directed the government to make sugar mills liable to clear all arrears of farmers within a week.
It is unclear how much the different sugar mills owe the farmers. The mill owners say it owes farmers Rs550 million while farmers say they are owed Rs900 million.
A probe committee needs to be formed to find out exactly how much is owed to the farmers, Mishra told the Post.
According to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Shree Ram Sugar Mill has arrears of Rs350 million to be paid to the farmers, Annapurna Sugar Mill, Sarlahi owes Rs170 million in outstanding dues to farmers, followed by Lumbini Sugar Mill Rs80.41 million and Indira Sugar Mill Nawalparasi Rs40.70 million.
Lumbini Sugar Mill has committed to clear the dues from January 15 through a press statement and is processing the payment.
Indira Sugar Mill and Bagmati Khadshari Sugar Mill are among other mills that still owe the farmers, according to Mishra.