For more than two weeks sugarcane farmers from Tarai staged protests in Kathmandu against mill owners until the government signed a deal to address all their concerns on Friday. The farmers, who provide raw materials for sugar by selling which the mill owners make huge profits, have not been paid for years. In fact, getting the payment for their products has been a long ordeal for them. They staged protests in their respective districts and drew the attention of the district authorities too. They were promised that their demand would be addressed. But this never happened. They kept selling the sugarcanes to the mill owners hoping that the owners would finally clear all the outstanding dues owed to them. The owners kept taking in their hard earned products promising them that they would be paid. But this never happened. The farmers lost hope, fell in debt and, desperate, came to Kathmandu to get their voices heard.
The scale of injustice done to the sugarcane farmers is appalling. The sugar mill owners have not paid the farmers for years and they owe them millions of rupees. Shree Ram Sugar Mills owes Rs 420 million, Annapurna Sugar Rs 400 million, Indira Sugar Mills Rs 100 million, Lumbini Sugar Mills Rs 100 million, Mahalaxmi Sugar Mills Rs 200 million and Bagmati Sugar Mills Rs 110 million to the farmers, according to the recent report. The mill owners may forward various excuses for this but the main reason they have not paid is because they don’t want to. Here is a simple logic. Sugarcane is a cash crop. Sugar is such a commodity that easily sells in the market and consumers immediately pay for it. So mill owners make hefty profit. To take in raw materials from poor farmers to run the industry on their blood and sweat, to make profits from their blood and sweat but not to pay them is a crime. Reports show that mill owners receive huge money from state coffers as subsidy. They even take in money allocated by the government exclusively for the farmers and it is the farmers whom they push to the state of suffering.
Something had to be done to hold the mill owners accountable. Though late, the government has shown readiness to address their concerns by signing five-point deal with the protesting farmers. In the agreement, Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies has pledged to make the mill owners clear all the outstanding dues to the farmers by January 21. But what if they don’t? Sugar mill owners have made such pledges several times in the past but they have not kept them. Thus, we need to watch when this agreement will materialize and at the same time also pressure the government to abide by this pledge. We need to stand by sugarcane farmers, until justice is done to them. The government needs to send a clear message to the unscrupulous mill owners that they will be jailed if they do not pay to the farmers. Sugarcane farmers have suffered a lot during their struggle for justice. They should not be made to suffer anymore. The government should address all their concerns in such a way that they do not have to worry about not being paid by mill owners, ever again.