As sugar mills have once again failed to clear dues, sugarcane farmers from Sarlahi district are gearing to start a protest in the capital.

A team of sugarcane farmers from Sarlahi had met Minister of Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatt two weeks ago demanding clearance of outstanding dues by Chhath. Since their demand was not fulfilled, they decided to launch a protest on December 12.

Maya Shankar Yadav, a sugarcane farmer of Ramnagar Rural Municipality, Sarlahi, has not been paid Rs 800,000 by Annapurna Sugar and General Industries in Dhankaul. “Although sugar mills say they will pay us, they have not,” said Yadav.

As many farmers depend on sugarcane for livelihood, they are facing hardship as sugar mills always delay payment.

“It is the responsibility of the government to make mill owners pay farmers, but the government is silent on the matter,” said Yadav, adding “So, we will start a protest on the announced date.”

According to Rakesh Mishra, patron of the Sugarcane Farmers Struggle Committee, the government had assured farmers that Annapurna Sugar and General Industries of Dhankaul would pay them after receiving payment for tender from Nepal Electricity Authority, but the government has not updated them regarding this.

"Similarly, the government had said it was in touch with the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation as owners of sugar mills that had closed down had said they would clear outstanding dues to farmers by selling land that the mills owned, but the government also has not given any update on this," Mishra added.

He said Mahalaxmi Sugar Mill had paid Rs 36 less than the price fixed by the government per quintal of sugarcane in 2017-18. “The sugar mills also deducted five to 20 per cent of weight per quintal claiming that the sugarcane had less juice," said Mishra. He further stated that they had sought fair evaluation from the Agriculture Knowledge Centre to recover losses during weight calculation, but nothing had been done so far.

"We had filed an application demanding the deducted amount of sugarcane in 2017- 18, but the government also turned a deaf ear to our pleas,” he added. “The government has not addressed the woes of farmers. It has been cheating us by giving false assurances,” said Mishra.

He further said mill owners were playing games by depositing a certain amount of money in the bank accounts of a few selected farmers who were actively engaged in protests to placate them so that they did not take part in protests. “This is an injustice against voiceless farmers,” he added.

Mishra informed that mill owners had said money had been sent to farmers, but they didn't disclose the amount sent and to how many farmers.

Farmers claim sugar mills have to pay outstanding dues worth Rs 360 million to around 6,000 sugarcane farmers in Sarlahi district alone.

Mishra also lamented that the schedule of payment had not been maintained. “We had demanded schedule-wise payment to farmers. Both the government and sugar mills had appreciated the concept then, but they have not met any schedule till date,” he said.

Officials at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies as well as Nepal Sugar Mills Association did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment on the matter.

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