Sugarcane farmers to protest again for overdue crop paymentThe agitating farmers had called off their protest last year following an assurance from the government that the delinquent mills would pay them within 21 days.
Sugarcane farmers have been coming to Kathmandu every year for the past two years to protest because sugar mills have not been paying them for their crops.
These farmers from Nepal's farming heartland in the southern plains arrived in the capital in the winter, and held sit-ins to highlight their case before the country. One of the demonstrating farmers died, being unused to the bitter cold of the valley.
They returned home following government promises that they would get their money. But that has not happened.
Rakesh Mishra, patron of the Sugarcane Farmers Struggle Committee, said that out of the Rs650 million owed to the farmers by the mills as claimed by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Rs130 million still remains unpaid.
“We kept hoping for nearly a year that we would get paid after returning from the protest in Kathmandu, but we are yet to see our money,” Mishra said.
“So we are planning to come to Kathmandu again to hold another protest. We would have come already; but as it is very cold in the valley right now, we have postponed our trip because we lost a farmer during last year’s protest,” Mishra said.
The agitating farmers claim the sugar mills owe them Rs900 million for their sugarcane crops. The outstanding amounts claimed by the farmers and the sugar mills are different, and government data shows that the mills are in arrears for Rs650 while the remaining Rs250 million is stated as disputed.
The agitating farmers had called off their two-week-long protest on December 28, 2020 following an assurance from the government that the delinquent mills would pay them within 21 days.
To sort out the disputed amount, the Industry Ministry formed a working committee which was supposed to submit a report in 120 days by studying the dues that needed to be cleared. The report said that the arrears remained to be cleared as claimed by the farmers, but it did not mention the exact amount.
According to Mishra, the government has said that the overdue payments will be sent to the District Administrative Office and the farmers will have to claim their payments within 35 days, and then the Industry Ministry will reach a conclusion.
“If the sugarcane farmers need to file claims for payments at the local level, what will the committee do then in 120 days?” he said.
Mishra said the farmers started harvesting sugarcane from Thursday, but the government has not fixed the minimum support price for the crop yet. “The minimum support price should have been fixed in mid-November,” he said.
"The crushing should have started from mid-December, but it has not started yet," he added. "The government and sugarcane mill owners are giving the farmers a hard time for their benefit by not fixing the support price of sugarcane on time," he charged.
“We have asked the government to fix the minimum support price of sugarcane at Rs700 per quintal,” Mishra said. The value added tax (VAT) charged on sugar is returned to farmers.
Arjun Prasad Pokharel, secretary at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, said that the dues of most of the sugar mills had been cleared. He said that the farmers had not informed the Industry Ministry about the remaining dues.
“We have no information regarding the huge amount of outstanding payments,” Pokharel said. “We hope that the sugarcane farmers do not have to protest for the unpaid dues for their product,” he added.
The amount owed by Lumbini Sugar Mill has been deposited in a bank, but no payment has been made because the records don't match.
"The District Administrative Office of Sarlahi has said that all the dues have been cleared and there are no dues remaining from other sugar mills," Pokharel said. No applications regarding outstanding payments have been received at the related District Administrative Offices and sugar mills.
As the government had not fixed sugarcane prices, sugarcane farmers in Rautahat have started selling sugarcane at the old rate for fear of their crops drying up in the fields. Baba Baidhyanath Sugar Mill of Rautahat started crushing sugarcane from Thursday.
Around 8,000 sugarcane farmers in the district have started taking their products to the sugar mill.
The farmers of the district complained that the government's delay in fixing the sugarcane price had forced them to sell their harvests cheaply.
Hardev Sahani, a sugarcane farmer of Mohammadpur, said that farmers were having a hard time because the government was late in fixing the minimum support every season. “If we wait for the government to fix the price, the sugarcane will dry up in the fields. I find it strange seeing how the government and the sugar mills work,” he said.
“We are forced to give our sugarcane to the mills, and I do not know what price the government will fix for the crop,” Sahani said.
Last year, the government had fixed the minimum support price of sugarcane at Rs544.33 per quintal.
Sugarcane production has declined in Rautahat district in recent years. "The district used to produce 2.5 million quintals in a season, but this year it will hardly produce 1 million quintals," said Satyendra Yadav, secretary of the Sugarcane Producers Association, Rautahat.