EDITORIAL: Don’t deceive this time

The refusal by the sugar mills to pay the farmers for their produce under whatever pretext is outright robbery

Sugarcane farmers have withdrawn their protests in the capital after 16 days, after the farmers and the government reached a four-point agreement on Monday. Under the agreement, the government has made a commitment to recover all due payment to the farmers by the sugar mills within 21 days. This is not the first time that the farmers and the government have reached a deal to get the mills to clear all arrears. They did so about a year back on January 1, but with the mills refusing to pay, the farmers had to descend to the capital again this December to raise the issue. The sugar mills owe a whopping Rs 650 million to thousands of farmers from central and eastern Nepal, money that the mills have been holding up for years. After much hue and cry in the media, some sugar mills like Annapurna Sugar Mills and Shree Ram Sugar Mills have, however, started paying the farmers since last week.

The refusal by the sugar mills to pay the farmers for their produce under whatever pretext is outright robbery.

The farmers take heavy loans, at times from the local loan sharks, to plant sugarcane, and when the mills refuse to pay them, they are left high and dry. It is indeed unfortunate that a sugarcane farmer, Narayan Raya Yadav, 65, who was in Kathmandu to take part in the protests, died of cardiac arrest on Tuesday, a day after the farmers and the government reached a deal. Annapurna Sugar Mill is said to owe him Rs 2.46 million, while he owes the banks Rs 1.8 million. He trusted neither the government nor the sugar mills, and was for continuing with the agitation until all dues to the farmers were cleared.

One fails to understand why some sugar mills, especially those located in west Nepal, can pay their farmers on time and others cannot.

The meeting of the farmers and the government on Monday also formed a committee to look into the misuse of subsidies provided to the farmers and the sugar mills, and the purchase of sugarcane at a price lower than the one fixed by the government. As an incentive, the government has been providing a subsidy of Rs 65 to the farmers for every quintal of sugarcane they produce. However, the non-payment of the farmers by the mills has discouraged many a farmer from taking up sugarcane farming. As a result, sugarcane output this year in Sarlahi district has seen a sharp drop compared to last year. This is bad for the country that has been trying to achieve self-sufficiency in the commodity and stop its import that is costing the nation billions of rupees every year. Government apart, the civil society, political parties and business organisations like the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) and the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI) must also come forward to put pressure on the sugar mills to clear the dues of the farmers. The ongoing demonstrations by the cadres of different parties, however, show that they are ready to hit the streets only if it suits their interests, not those of ordinary people. Hopefully, the new deal will help the farmers get their payment soon, and they will not have to travel all the way to Kathmandu time and again to call attention to their case.

Meet the deadlines

With the arrival of 52 Chinese technicians and workers on Monday, it is expected that the remaining works of Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA) will be completed within the deadline set by the government. Most of the Chinese technicians, who had left Nepal for China to celebrate the Chinese New Year, were stuck there following the spread of the coronavirus in early February. All the Chinese workers who returned to work have been inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, the Chinese-funded project has achieved 68 per cent physical progress. The remaining works — 14 per cent of civil works and 18 per cent of technical aspects — will be completed within six months to come. At the same time, the government should also take an initiative to bring Chinese technicians to complete the remaining works of Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA), as around 93 per cent of the work has already been completed. GBIA, which has already finished the civil works, is waiting for the technicians to install the lighting system, baggage handling and radar navigation system. Both the airports are expected to play an important role in promoting Nepal’s tourism industry once they come into operation following their completion.