Bitter struggle behind sweet sugar

Published On: January 2, 2020 08:02 PM NPT By: Prashant Lamichhane

KATHMANDU, Jan 1: Sugarcane means raw material for sugar. And, sugar tastes sweet. However, the very sugar these days features the bitter struggle of sugarcane farmers. Yes, the farmers for having been unpaid for years for their harvest sold to the sugar mills are now staging days-long sit-in at the Maiti Ghar Mandala in the heart of the capital.

Each season, they harvested sugarcane. But, they did not get their payments despite their numerous requests. They did not have other options other than taking to the street yet again.

Let’s talk about the story of their past. They borrowed loans from local moneylenders for sugarcane plantation with a dream of paying the loan back after selling the harvest. Not only that, they also dreamt of making it to surplus to address their familial needs. However, their dream never came true. Then after, they set out for the district headquarters and visited Chief District Officer (CDO), district-level leaders and other so-called influential people. Alas! No solution yet again.

What next? 

The farmers, then, decided to leave for the capital where they had never reached out before in their whole life. They are now in Kathmandu. For the last two weeks, they have been running hunger strike-like sit-in at the Maiti Ghar Mandala. 

One of them is 62-year-old Raudi Mahato of Sisautiya, Sarlahi. Sexagenarian Mahato has already been caught by biting cold weather of Kathmandu. Eyes are swollen and feet are terribly aching. Meager thin clothing hardly guards him against dipping mercury. Talking to Republica Online on Thursday, Mahato said, “Let’s not talk about cold. I’ll not return home until I receive my outstanding payment.”

But where is he staying here in the capital?

“We don’t have anyone here. Sometimes we spend nights in the street while we stay at some kind-hearted people’s places,” shared Mahato. The communist government with a comfortable majority is steering the nation. The party which used to raise the issues of farmers and laborers is now at the helm of the government. However, nobody cares about the poor and exploited farmers! 

He took two bighas of land on lease for sugarcane farming. His entire family members were involved in sharing their hands for better yields. They sold sugarcane to Annapurna Sugar Mill every year, but all unpaid for three years. He had hopes and trusted his ‘Master’, however, he got betrayed. Annapurna Sugar Mill owes Rs 400 thousand but pays a petty amount of Rs 5-10 thousand as if it has been offering alms to the farmers. After receiving no money, Mahato didn’t plant the crops this year. “What’s the use of sweating if you are not paid, so I did nothing this year,” he said. 

The loan amount of Rs 200 thousand is being increased at a rate of 36% per annum. Loan amount haunts him day and night. His pain, therefore, forced him to come to Kathmandu with much hope.

The farmers claim that Annapurna Sugar Mill needs to pay a total of Rs 500 million and Rs 210 million is to be paid by Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill to them. 

It’s not their will to launch a demonstration in this chilly weather when it is the time for wheat plantation. “What can we do? We have no option of being here to get our voices heard although we should have been busy in our fields these days.”

Many advised him to take up the issue to the leaders. He too thought that it was a better option. But there is a problem that he doesn’t know any leader. “I sweat in the field. Toil hard. Play with plough and tend the crops. But why don’t I get the price of my sweat?” wonders Mahato who looks exhausted, feeble and desperate from inside. 

Moneylender at times exerts pressure on him for immediate payments of the loan. But how? “Sugar mill doesn’t pay, however, the moneylender asks for money. We have become like squatters,’ lamented he. 

Many other farmers including him had staged a hunger strike in the headquarters earlier. They were assured of payments and sent back home. They have been wandering this and that office asking for the price of their sweat. “We are finally here in Kathmandu. Hopefully, capital won’t turn deaf ears to our sufferings.” 

The farmers held talks with different authorities and reached the consensus for four times focusing on immediate payments, but they were never paid. However, they are so much committed that they won’t return empty-handed. They are expecting a written commitment from the government to meet their demands. They also demand a roundtable dialogue including farmers, mill-operator and the government. However, that has not happened yet.

The farmers demand not only outstanding payments but also with compensation. Most of the farmers of Sarlahi are yet to receive due amounts since 2013. Grants provided by the governments have not been deposited in their accounts yet. The government has fixed that rate of per quintal sugarcane at Rs 536.56. Of which, sugar mills should pay Rs 471.28 and Rs 65.28 has to be funded by the government. Farmers now demand for payment of their harvest within 15 days after it is weighed.

Meanwhile, 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.


Leave A Comment