Sweet deal, bitter execution


There was a sweet deal to end the struggle of sugarcane farmers who have been unable to get their money of yields from the sugar mills for years. As per the five-point agreement reached between the agitating farmers and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies (MoICS) on Friday, the sugar mills must clear all dues to the farmers by January 21.

For this, the MoICS will act to enforce the accord that can be vital to minimise the long-running conflict between the sugarcane farmers and mill operators. The agreement has stipulated that the government will constitute a task force under a joint secretary of the ministry to recommend ways to iron out the problems of sugarcane farmers. The panel will also recommend to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and the Ministry of Finance to provide fertilises, seeds and machines to the farmers so as to increase the production of sugarcane, and make sugar industries self-reliant and capable to export sugar. It will study about creating an automated system to fix sugarcane prices every year.

The government has also committed to coordinating with the line ministries to distribute money in subsidy to the farmers.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.Following the accord, the farmers have stopped their fortnight-long protest in Kathmandu. Farmers from central Terai had come to the capital and staged sit-in at Maitighar Mandala, with their 11-point demand. They had braved the chill and rain of the freezing winter.

They had lit a fire on the ground of the Maitighar to beat the cold. Ironically, the police had intervened in their agitation and put out the fire. But farmers have successfully drawn the attention of the state, media and civil society to their genuine grievance. The people from different walks of life including the rights organisations and students expressed their solidarity with the peasants’ struggle. The increasing support for the agitation was perhaps one key factor that impelled the authorities to strike the agreement in favour of farmers.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.

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