KATHMANDU, Jan 2: The agitating sugarcane farmers on Thursday served a seven-day ultimatum to the government to address their demands at the earliest.
The sugarcane farmers, who have not been paid by the sugar mills for their crops, have warned of launching nation-wide stern protest if their demands are not met on time. The sugarcane farmers have been staging a sit-in at Maitighar in the capital for the past week.
During a meeting with sugarcane farmers held at the Ministry of Industry on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokharel, Industry Minister Lekhraj Bhatta and Agriculture Minister Ghanshyam Bhusal vowed to clear all the outstanding payment of the sugarcane farmers by January 21.
However, the sugarcane farmers have demanded the government to clear 80% outstanding payment by January 10 and the remaining 20% payment by January third week. "Unless we get a commitment from the government in writing, we will continue our protest," Bechan Yadav, sugarcane farmer from Saptari district said. Yadav blamed the government and sugar mill owners for not honoring past commitments for the same.
Sugarcane farmers said the mills are yet to clear outstanding payments for the past five years amounting to Rs 1.33 billion. According to them, it is mainly six sugar mills that have been refusing to clear their dues.
The farmers have yet to recover Rs 420 million from Shree Ram Sugar Mills, Rs 400 million from Annapurna Sugar Mills, Rs 200 million from Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills, Rs 110 million from Bagmati Sugar Mills and Rs 100 million each from Indira Sugar Mills and Lumbini Sugar Mills, among others.
Ram Bilas Mahato, a farmer in his 70s, said he has not gotten full payment from Annapurna Sugar Mills since 2015/16. “I have bank loans worth millions and the bank has threatened to auction my property if I do not pay up,” he said.
Thirteen sugar mills are operating across the country. From time to time, the government has been directed the mills to pay the farmers on time, but to little effect.
Although this year’s cane harvest season has already begun, the farmers have felt compelled to come all the way to the capital to pressure the government over their plight.
Hari Shyam Raya, secretary of the cane farmers’ action committee, said around 150 farmers are now in Kathmandu to join the protest. According to him, Annapurna Sugar Mills has not paid the farmers for the past five years.
Raya said that last June the farmers staged a hunger strike in Sarlahi.
Raya said around 25,000 farmers are now left high and dry by the sugar mills.