Loan shark victims end struggle after five-point agreementGovernment agrees to take measures to compensate the victims and reclaim land illegally taken by the lenders.
Tika R Pradhan
The weeks-long struggle of loan shark victims ended on Saturday after they signed a five-point agreement with the government.
Several dozen loan shark victims had gathered in Kathmandu from different parts of Nawalparasi district to build pressure on the government to punish the loan sharks, who have been troubling them with “never-ending payments”.
“We have signed a five-point deal with the government,” said Ram Surat Gupta, convenor of the struggle committee of borrowers forced to pay exorbitant interest rates. “We are currently holding a review meeting.”
They had been holding sit-in protests at Maitighar for more than six weeks.
The five-point agreement was signed by Gupta, the convenor, and Joint Secretary at the Home Ministry Bhishma Bhusal, who leads the task force formed to recommend ways to control the crime related to loan-sharking.
According to Bhusal, the two sides have agreed to probe the properties of the loan sharks and the government has also pledged to make arrangements for compensating the victims who died due to the torture meted out by the lenders.
If it is proven that the mortgaged land of the victims was captured by the loan sharks even after the victims paid back the loan along with the interest, a legal mechanism will be set up to reclaim the land.
The government agreed to fulfil other demands of the victims through a Cabinet decision by coordinating among the authorities concerned as recommended by the task force.
“We will announce the end of our protests at Maitighar Mandala on Sunday,” said Uma Shankar Loniya, secretary of the struggle committee.
The government had formed the six-member task force on August 12 after the loan shark victims started their sit-in at Maitighar.
Among the 2,289 complaints the task force had received, the local administration has already looked into 56. The task force on August 13 issued a notice for the victims to register complaints along with evidence by August 21.
The task force has also recommended that the political parties not accept donations or any financial assistance from the loan sharks and not provide political protection to them, besides not fielding them in the polls.
In its report, the task force has also recommended that the government provide concessional loans to those going abroad for jobs as most of the loan shark victims had taken the loans for foreign employment.
Even as the government has stopped recruiting agencies from collecting hefty sums of money for sending people for foreign employment, Nepalis are forced to pay large sums of money without receipts.
According to Bhusal, the two parties have also agreed to declare the documents related to loan sharking as illegal after studying them. “To end the illegal practice, the government will make necessary legal arrangements and develop a working procedure,” states the agreement.
The victims said they would go back home on Monday.
“We are happy after signing the agreement,” Gupta, the convenor of the struggle committee, told the Post after their meeting on Saturday. “However, we have warned Home Ministry officials including the minister not to force us to return to Maitighar again.”
Task force coordinator Bhusal said they have sent the report to all the relevant authorities including Nepal Rastra Bank, the Finance Ministry and the Federal Parliament Secretariat as their support is essential to end the financial crime that afflicts the poor people.
“Now we need the law to criminalise loan-sharking,” Bhusal told the Post. “Since this House has expired, the next House of Representatives can take up the issue.”
Without criminalising activities related to loan-sharking such as check bouncing, it would be difficult to end the financial crime that is deeply rooted in the society.
According to Bhusal, if loan sharking is criminalised, the state will take the responsibility to fight such cases in court. He also said the government should provide legal aid to the poor farmers who’ve fallen victim to loan sharks.