Sugarcane farmers resort to agitation again after government breaks promiseFarmers say sugar mills still owe them Rs250 million that includes the subsidy amount given to them by the government.
Weeks after Sher Bahadur Deuba took the helm of the government, sugarcane farmers have resorted to agitation for payment of their remaining dues, seven months after the then KP Sharma Oli administration had struck a deal committing farmers to clear their arrears.
Last winter, hopeful sugarcane farmers returned home after weeks of protest in Kathmandu following an agreement with the government.
The Industry Ministry had on December 28, 2020, assured farmers that it would make sugar mills liable to pay their dues pending for the last 4-5 years. As per the agreement, sugarcane producers would get all their outstanding dues within 21 days of the agreement.
Now farmers are back in Kathmandu to exert pressure on the Sher Bahadur Deuba led coalition government.
“The farmers are back in Kathmandu for the third time after the government broke its promise,” Rakesh Mishra, patron of the Sugarcane Farmers Struggle Committee, told the Post.
According to him, as per the government’s claim, sugar mills owe Rs155 million to farmers out of a staggering Rs650 million after pilling dues for the last 4-5 years.
But farmers say that the mills still owe them Rs250 million which includes the subsidy amount given to them by the government which sugar mills have not paid.
Mishra said that as per the government’s record, Annapurna Sugar Mill of Sarlahi still owes Rs80 million, followed by Rautahat-based Shree Ram Sugar Mill with Rs30 million, and Nawalparasi-based Lumbini Sugar Mill with Rs20 million.
Another Nawalparasi-based Indira Sugar Mill owes Rs20 million to farmers and Sarlahi-based Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill is yet to clear Rs5 million.
Urmila KC, deputy spokesperson of the Industry Ministry, said sugar mills have already deposited the remaining dues with the banks but as many farmers do not have bank accounts, it has not been transferred.
According to the Industry Ministry, the concerned District Administrative Offices have reported that sugar mills with remaining dues have deposited the amount with the banks, but as they don’t have the farmers’ contact numbers, it has not been transferred to their accounts.
The ministry had said earlier that since there was a dispute on the amount of remaining dues after farmers claimed mills have yet to pay them Rs250 million, it would be decided through a report prepared by a government formed committee.
The report was said to be published after 120 days of the agreement but there is no development so far, said Mishra.
The government subsidy includes Rs65.28 per quintal of sugarcane. This subsidy amounts to 90 percent of the value-added tax levied on the sugar sales at current prices by sugar mills. As per the provision, the government refunds 90 percent of the value-added tax levied on the sugar sales to mills which they pay to sugarcane farmers.
Narayan Prasad Regmi, spokesperson of the Industry Ministry, claimed that the draft copy of the committee’s report has been provided to the farmers as well. “But they did not come for the discussions after they received the report.”
Regmi said that farmers are also on the technical committee. When asked if the farmers' demand for additional payment [the subsidy amount] was genuine, Regmi asked to check with farmers.
“The ministry invited us to sign the report prepared by them but we didn't. The report was not clear on the subsidy amount so we did not sign,” Mishra said.
The ministry is reluctant to publish the genuine record, he said.
The sugarcane farmers, who arrived in Kathmandu last Thursday, have given an ultimatum to the government to correct the report by August 21 which has excluded their additional pay in a form of subsidy.
Likewise, according to the farmers' committee, the ministry had not fulfilled its promise to provide compensation to the family of sugarcane farmer Narayan Ray who died while protesting in Kathmandu.
Mishra said that the sugar mills have also deferred payment of sugarcane harvested in mid-January.
The country’s sugar demand stood at 250,000 tonnes in the last fiscal year, but local production amounted to 105,000 tonnes only.
Mishra said that 50 percent of farmers have left sugarcane farming as they are not paid on time.