EDITORIAL: Clear the dues

Instead of lifting the farmers out of poverty, the unscrupulous ways of doing business only pushes them deeper into debt and destitution

With the government fixing the support price of sugarcane for this season, sugar mills have started operation, but many farmers are in no mood to sell their produce until the mills clear their outstanding dues to them. Sugarcane farmers from across the country have gathered in the capital, braving the bone-chilling cold, to draw the attention of the government towards their plight. The sugar mills owe a whopping Rs 1.5 billion in uncleared payments to the farmers, with one operator, Rakesh Kumar Agrawal, of Annapurna Sugar and General Industries and Indira Sugar and Agro Industries, alone failing to pay a third of that amount. The farmers are at the receiving end as they have taken loans from the banks or moneylenders to grow sugarcane, but neither the mill owners nor the provincial or local officials will listen to their clamour to be paid. But this time, following much hullaballo in the media, the government has taken a firm stand to punish the sugar mills if need be so that justice is done to the farmers.

The government has given assurances that the mills would clear all dues by the third week of January. They might even get 80 per cent of outstanding dues within the next 10 days. On Monday the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development, had asked the Ministry of Home to swing into action against the stubborn sugar mills. The police have been directed to look for Rakesh Kumar, in particular, and have him presented at the Industry Ministry. This is simply disgraceful. There are 14 sugar mills in the country that produce about 1.75 lakh tons of sugar annually by crushing 26 million tons of sugarcane grown by tens of thousands of petty farmers. The country consumes about 250,000 tons of sugar, and the shortfall is met through imports from mostly India and Pakistan, which is cheaper than domestic production.

The tendency of the private sugar mills to profit heavily by taking undue advantage of the unorganised, voiceless farmers is not only illegal and unethical, but also criminal in nature. Surprisingly, the business community has remained largely silent on the issue. When someone from among their flock engages in unethical practices, it is the duty of their apex bodies, namely the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Confederation of Nepalese industries and Nepal Chamber of Commerce to speak up and show no tolerance. How can you expect agro-industry to foster in the country when the farmers are unsure if they will be paid for the produce they sell? Instead of lifting the farmers out of poverty, the unscrupulous ways of doing business adopted by some only pushes them deeper into debt and destitution. The government must make sure that the mill owners clear all their dues to the farmers within the stipulated timeframe as promised by them, failing which the authorities must use whatever option it takes to do so. The mills would do well to stop whining all the time about the high cost of production in Nepal, and refrain from duping the farmers and government time and again for petty gains.

Pads to schoolgirls

As per its policies and programmes for fiscal 2018/19, the government is all set to provide sanitary pads free of charge to all adolescent girls studying in community schools. The Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration published a notice to this effect on Wednesday. The main objective of the scheme is to improve menstrual hygiene of adolescent girls and solve the problem of absenteeism and drop-outs among them during the periods.

The government has allocated budget for all community schools as conditional grants to run the scheme from December-end 2019 to mid-July 2020. As per the scheme, a girl student of a community school in remote districts is entitled to pads worth Rs 1,096, while a girl student up to Grade XII in other districts will get Rs 977 every year. The local levels will ascertain the number of girls in the community schools and distribute them accordingly. The quality of the sanitary pads will be determined by the Ministry of Health and Population. Rules have also been set about the proper disposal of the used pads. While it is a welcome move of the government, the capacity of the concerned local levels must be strengthened about the ways of their proper distribution.