The Bitter Story of Sweet Producers

December 17, 2020 By: INSEC

It has been a few days since the producers of sugarcane have been protesting in Kathmandu. The consumers may be least bothered about what is ongoing but these farmers are struggling in the cold amid the spread of COVID-19 with their simple attire and eyes full of hope.

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Gagandev Raya Yadav has come to Kathmandu from Ramnagar Rural Municipality-1, Sarlahi seeking justice. He did not come to Kathmandu for loitering around. After not getting justice in the villages, they appealed to the provincial government which did not serve justice. He and some other farmers have come to Kathmandu as they are not getting the result of their labor.

He complained that he did not get any price for the sugarcane sold at the sugar mills since 2014. The mills were reluctant to pay. Sugarcane farmers have not been able to get a payment of Rs 1.20 billion despite repeated protests. However, the industry has been claiming that only Rs 656.5 million is left. The farmers are alleging that the sugar mill has used various excuses to default on the debts for the last six years.

After the devastation of COVID-19, 20/25 farmers from Province 2 and Lumbini Province have come to Kathmandu to protest by blocking the road near Maitighar Mandala. To support the peasantry, some others have joined the movement. Those who came to Kathmandu from Sarlahi are outraged – “We went on a hunger strike in Malangwa. No hearing! We drew the attention of the provincial government. The province government did nothing. That is why we have come here to draw the attention of the central government. ‘On the third day of the distress, the farmers were shouting at the journalist who had reached Maitighar for reporting.’

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Gajendra Pratap Singh of Ballara Municipality, Sarlahi, says that the sugarcane farmers have not repaid the loan so far. Due to this, the farmers have become homeless due to high-interest rate loans taken from banks and merchants for sugarcane production. He said that merchants and the bank could not pay the interest as well as the principal as the economic situation became miserable due to the recent pandemic. He also said that sugarcane was planted in one December/January and harvested in the next December/January. He said, ”The farmers have alleged that the government has not even given the subsidy.”

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The farmers who are protesting on the cold road in Maitighar with their demands are restless. They are worried that their visit to Kathmandu may go waste and may end as before. Sugarcane farmers have been selling sugarcane on credit. Engineer Rajesh Ahiraj says that the government should address the demand of the agitated farmers as the mill operator has not paid the amount of sugarcane sold on loan for years.

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The government is going to arrest the industrialist who has not paid the dues of the sugarcane farmers. As per the decision of the meeting held at the Ministry of Home Affairs on December 12, a letter has been written to the concerned District Administration Office to arrest the operator of the industry who did not pay the arrears. “It has been decided to arrest the operators of the industry who have not paid the farmers for buying sugarcane for the last 6-7 years,” said Home Ministry’s spokesperson Chakra Bahadur Budha. The farmers have responded that this decision has raised little hope.

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The government has reached a five-point agreement with the sugarcane farmers on January 3, 2020 who have joined the capital-centric protest after the sugar industry failed to pay them. The farmers had postponed the agitation after the government’s written commitment to pay the farmers’ arrears by January 21. However, the farmers have protested again as they have not received the payment yet.

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- Ramesh Prasad Timalsina