KATHMANDU, May 27: Making sugar mills pay the dues of sugarcane farmers was one of the main agendas of the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Matrika Prasad Yadav after assuming office. But farmers are yet to be paid.
The government has claimed grand success in its first 100 days in office, but it has failed to keep the words given to those cash crop producers. As several of sugar mills are not paying farmers though they are doing well producing sugar and selling in the market on cash.
Santosh Bista, personal assistant to minister Yadav, told Republica: “Although the ministry has time and again reminded mill operators to clear the dues to farmers, operators have been refraining from doing so. They have been citing lack of funds. They claim that they have not been able to sell sugar they produced.”
“The mill operators claim that sugar imported from India costs much less, and that it has been pushing the demand of Nepali sugar down.”
According to Bista, although Nepal produces sufficient amount of sugar for domestic consumption, the government has not been able to stop the import of sugar from India.
“Nepal's sugar production is sufficient for consumption. However we have not been able to stop the inflow of Indian sugar to Nepali market to promote use of locally produced sugar. There are legal hurdles behind it,” Bista said.
Moreover, Bista told Republica that banning the import of sugar from India would mean that the entire market of sugar – a commodity of daily use – will be in the hands of a few mills which could give rise to monopoly of these few mills over the entire market of Nepal.
He added that the government however has already taken a step towards discouraging import of sugar. “The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies has requested the Ministry of Finance to increase duty for imported sugar to 60 percent. The Ministry had initially increased the duty from 15 percent to 30 percent. However, it seems important to further increase it so that both farmers and mill operators are not hampered due to the imported sugar.”Bista affirmed that the government will take necessary actions in this regard once the health condition of Minister Yadav returns to normal. “Minister Yadav, who was on a health trip to Thailand since Monday has returned to Nepal on Saturday, it will be a few days before his condition returns to normal. Necessary decisions will be taken and implemented after this.”
Secretary of the Ministry Yam Kumari Khatiwada said that few sugar mills have not followed the instruction of the ministry. “A recent correspondence to them for paying the farmers' dues has been made just three days ago.”
Although mills had pledged to start repaying the farmers from April 5 upon instructions of Minister Yadav, millions of farmers are yet to receive payments for sugarcane they had sold in December 2017. Farmers in southern Nepal had to go as far as to padlock the Everest Sugar Mill in Mahottari as the mill did not make payments to 25,000 farmers. The mill owes farmers Rs 1.77 billion in dues.