KATHMANDU, July 7: Sugarcane farmers in the southern belt of the country have been awaiting payments for thousands of tons of canes bought by local sugar mills for the past many months. However, the government has not been able to take firm action against mill operators who have been dilly-dallying on releasing payments to farmers.
Although Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Matrika Prasad Yadav, has tried many times to press the mill operators for releasing payments to farmers, the latter has shown no interest in clearing their dues.
Despite signing series of agreements with farmers, mill operators have repeatedly backed out from such deals citing one reason or the other.
Talking to Republica, Kapil Mani Mainali, president of Nepal Sugarcane Producers Federation, said that mill operators have not lived up to their commitment made to the government. “Seeing Minister Yadav himself taking the initiative, were hopeful that mill operators finally release payment to farmers as agreed after April 5. But it didn't happen. Mill operations backtracked giving various reasons,” Mainail added.
According to Mainali, mill operators have cited their inability to pay farmers to dismal demand from the market due to high imports from India. “Mill operators say they do not have money to pay to farmers as sugar produced by them is not finding buyers. Some mill owners say that they will release payment only after analyzing budget for Fiscal Year 2018/19,” he added.
After the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies (MoICS) failed to make mill operators make outstanding payments to farmers, it had sought assistance from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to take action against mill operators.
When Republica asked Minister Yadav why mill operators were not implementing agreements signed with them, Santosh Bista, a personal assistant to Minister Yadav, said that mill operators have reportedly made fresh commitment to concerned District Administration Offices (DAOs) to start paying farmers from July 17. “However, we have not received any written information about that,” he added.
According to Bista, mill operators made such commitments at the DAOs following arrest of the officials of Sunsari-based Eastern Sugar Mills. “A few mills are making scheduled payments now. However, I am skeptical that mill operators will start releasing payments as promised as they have always found a reason to avoid paying farmers,” he said, adding that the ministry, however, will take strong action against the mill operations if they default on payment again.
“If we receive any complaint from farmers, we will file a case against them in the court of law. They will be penalized accordingly,” added Bista.
There are around 100,000 commercial sugarcane farmers in the country and at least 80 percent of the farmers have not received payments from mill operators.
According to Mainali, 12 sugar mills owe payments worth Rs 10 billion to the farmers.