Sugarcane farmers complain about delayed payment from sugar millsThe government made a deal with the farmers on Monday that they would get their money within 21 days.
Sugarcane farmers who have been holding a protest against non-paying sugar mills said they had not received any money while the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies said their payments were being processed.
The government had made a deal with the farmers on Monday that they would be paid for the crops they sold to sugar factories within 21 days.
According to Rakesh Mishra, patron of the Sugarcane Farmers Struggle Committee, the small amounts of money that the mills had been giving to the farmers stopped coming after the pact was made four days ago.
“The sugar mills began giving some money to the farmers after they staged a sit-in to create a favourable atmosphere for talks. But as soon the farmers signed the agreement with the government, the payments stopped completely,” Mishra told the Post.
"The Industry Ministry says Rs50.5 million has been deposited into the farmers' bank accounts, but they are yet to see any of the money," he said
After the sugarcane farmers from the Tarai came to Kathmandu and launched a demonstration demanding settlement of their long overdue payment, the delinquent mills began paying them Rs10,000 to Rs50,000 each in a bid to placate them and show that they were being paid. But after the deal with the government, no cash was forthcoming.
“We were expecting the payments to be made on a fast track basis after the agreement was concluded, but the Industry Ministry and the sugar mills are saying different things,” Mishra said.
“We came to know that the payments stopped because the mills had been suspended from conducting banking transactions,” he said.
“When we asked the Industry Ministry, we learned that the bank account of Annapurna Sugar Mill had been frozen so it could not conduct certain types of transactions, but that it would not affect payment to the farmers," he said.
"The factory owner is saying that they are not able to pay the farmers because banking transactions have been suspended. We do not know which one of them is lying to us,” Mishra said.
One of the protesting farmers, Narayan Raya Yadav, died of a heart attack on Tuesday. He needed to collect around Rs2.4 million from Annapurna Sugar Mill.
“We have asked the Industry Ministry for compensation of Rs1 million for Yadav, and it has forwarded the demand to the Home Ministry,” Mishra said. The farmers have been informed that they will have to wait for around a week for the Home Ministry's decision.
An official of the Industry Ministry had pledged compensation to the family of the deceased when he came to express condolences on Tuesday. The ministry also provided Rs25,000 for funeral expenses.
According to Mishra, except for a few farmers including the committee leader, most of the farmers have returned to their villages. “We will be staying for 21 days as per the agreement, and we will take further decisions as per the payment made by sugar mills on the 22nd day,” he said.
The district police on Thursday arrested Manoj Agrawal, owner of Lumbini Sugar Mill of Nawalparasi, for non-payment. According to the Industry Ministry, the mill owes Rs80.41 million to the sugarcane farmers for their crops.
Lumbini Sugar Mill had issued a press statement on December 17 promising to clear its dues from January 15, and that it had started processing the payment.
It said that the mill owner Manish Agrawal had died in January 2018 and his brother had been operating the business. The mill was not able to pay the farmers due to a property dispute between the brothers. The District Court has passed judgment on the case, and the mill has started work to pay the farmers, the statement added.
Narayan Prasad Regmi, spokesperson for the Industry Ministry, said they had not received any report from the chief district officers regarding payment, but he said that it was being made.
“The ministry will try to have all outstanding payments cleared within 21 days. We are in the process of implementing the agreement. To this end, the owner of Lumbini Sugar Mills was arrested on Thursday,” he said.
Chakra Bahadur Budha, spokesperson for the Home Ministry, said that the ministry had ordered the arrest of the owners of four non-paying sugar mills—Shree Ram Sugar Mill, Lumbini Sugar Mill, Indira Sugar Mill and Annapurna Sugar Mill.
Among them, Shree Ram Sugar Mill had started depositing money to pay the farmers. “The order to arrest them will remain unless the sugar mills start depositing money in the bank by calculating the amount that needs to be paid, “ Budha said.
Action will be taken against the mills for delaying the farmers’ payment despite the agreement with the government and sugarcane farmers, he said.
Budha said that the family of the deceased farmer Narayan Raya Yadav would be paid compensation, but the amount had not been decided yet.
According to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Shree Ram Sugar Mill owes Rs350 million to the farmers, Annapurna Sugar Mill, Sarlahi Rs170 million, Lumbini Sugar Mill Rs80.41 million and Indira Sugar Mill of Nawalparasi owes the farmers Rs40.70 million.
It is unclear how much the different sugar mills owe the farmers. The mill owners say the total amount comes to Rs550 million while the farmers say they need to collect Rs900 million.