Sugarcane farmers brave winter cold, continue their push in hope of sweet results
January 3, 2020 05:14 PM NPT
KATHMANDU, Jan 3: It is drizzling outside amidst chilly weather. A fire is lit in a headpan fuelled by pieces of wood and husk inside a small tent. Some people are huddled around the fire hoping for a happy future. This is the scenario at the local Maitighar Mandala. They are the sugarcane farmers who have come all the way from the Tarai to make their voices heard in the federal capital. These sugarcane farmers represent hundreds of their ilk who have not been paid by the sugar mills for the sugarcane they sold to the mills.
Hailing from the Tarai plains which have a tropical climate, the sugarcane farmers are braving Kathmandu's winter chill calling for the dues the sugar mills owe them. Several sugar mills owe approximately Rs 1.40 billion in dues to the farmers. The farmers have also not got the Rs 1.34 billion subsidies that the government provides them through the mills. Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill and Annapurna Sugar Mill of Sarlahi, Shree Ram Sugar Mill of Rautahat, Everest Sugar Mill of Mahottari, Himalayan Sugar Mill of Siraha, Bagmati Sugar Mill of Nawalparasi owe large sums of money to farmers.
The children of the sugarcane farmers from these districts who are studying in various colleges in Kathmandu and the farmers who have come here have formed the Sugarcane Farmers Struggle Committee and have been staging a sit-in at the Maitighar Mandala. It has been nine days since they are staging the sit-in, demanding that the government make the sugar mills pay them their dues.
Representatives of various organizations, students and rights campaigners have been visiting them to express their solidarity to their demands. Minister urges agitating sugarcane farmers to go home with confidence Meantime, the government has assured agitating sugarcane farmers that it would ensure the payment of all dues sugar mills owned to them by the third week of January.
Speaking at a face-to-face program organized by the Reporters' Club here today, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatta said the government was committed to addressing demands of agitating farmers and not to doubt over its words. It may be noted a group of sugarcane farmers from Sarlahi district has been staging a demonstration at the local Maitighar Mandal in Kathmandu for the past few days in a bid to seek the government's attention to the prolonged deprivation of payment for their produces they supplied to sugar mills. The minister said," Farmers will get 80 percent of the amount they are entitled to be paid by the second week of this month and the remaining by the third week."
As he said, sugarcane mills have already got a strict order to make the payment within the above mentioned time. He urged farmers to return home with the confidence of being paid. On the occasion, farmers said they would not return home until the government promised the payment in writing, citing that they had already sat for talks with government representatives for many times, but their concern remained unaddressed.
Sugarcane Farmers' Struggle Committee Secretary Harishyam Raya said," We are confident by the efforts of the minister, but we won't go back home without an agreement in writing. We have been deceived in the past. We are helpless." Saying some of the sugar mill owners have already started activities to provide amount to farmers, Minister Bhatta of the sugar mills operated in the country, only 13 have to pay dues to farmers.
The government has determined the price of per quintal sugarcane at Rs 536 and has been providing Rs 65.28 grants per quintal sugarcane. Minister Bhatta said that the ministry is going to carry out the study by forming a task force immediately regarding how could be issues raised by farmers addressed and how to encourage farmers, saying preparation was underway to deposit grant amount at the bank account of farmers.
Out of 240,000 metric tonnes of sugar demanded in the country, the domestic sugar mills have been producing 175,000 metric tonnes of sugar. He added that the government has been thinking whether or not to resume Birgunj and Lumbini Sugar Industries, declared as sick industries in the past.