Usury victims navigate arduous path to justice

Kathmandu, Mar. 10: It has already been five weeks since the usury victims arrived in Kathmandu after completing their barefoot march for 38 days from Mechi East to Mahakali West.

Lack of food, shelter, clean water and toilets is causing the victims to fall sick every day. The 1,200 victims who are currently taking temporary shelter at Bhrikutimandap of Kathmandu, are organising protests of various kind on the streets every day. 

Victims from 28 districts, including eight districts from Madhes, are joining the march in Kathmandu.

Even though there was 5th-round of talks between the government and the usury victims, the problem could not be resolved as both the sides claimed that the dialogue teams lacked a clear plan and vision to address the issue.

When this scribe reached Bhrikutimandap on Thursday afternoon, most of the victims complained that they didn’t get justice according to the laws made by the government and as per the recommendation made by the Commission on unfair transactions led by former Chairman of the Special Court Gauri Bahadur Karki. The Commission was formed on April 3, 2023, by Prachanda-led government.

Chairman Karki said that the government should be responsible for solving the problems. “We have been accused of running away after settling around 5,000 applications. Over 23,000 applications are still pending,” Karki said. 

“The Commission’s job is not to resolve the dispute between the victims and the creditors, but to suggest what the problem of unfair transactions is and how to resolve it to the government,” claimed Karki. 

The government should have responded to the situation before it gathered complication. If justice has been done by establishing the Commission, it should have been explained to them properly. But, the government didn’t do that,” he said. 

“It is the job of the government to explain what has been done as recommended by the Commission and how further steps will be taken to give them justice,” claimed Karki. 

Awadhesh Kushwaha, chairman of Peasants’ Struggle Committee, complained that the government had not fulfilled the demands despite the assurances given during the struggle for the last three years. “The government made the law. A Commission of inquiry was also formed. However, the victims were not freed from the creditors control yet,” said Kushwaha. 

He said that they had to come to the streets again because the government had beguiled the victims just by forming the Commission. The problem of nearly 30,000 victims is still the same, Kushwaha claimed. 

22,800 complaints yet to be settled 

However, in the report the Commission submitted to the government on December 12, it has been 

mentioned that of the 28,000 total complaints received at its head office in Janakpurdham, the Commission resolved 5,200 complaints through mutual understanding and some by returning the over-charge loans of debtors. 

According to Karki, the report found that eight districts of Madhes Province and Nawalparasi West of Lumbini Province have been the hub for loan sharks as the largest number of complaints were received from there. About 24,000 applications were received from these nine districts.  

The Commission has recommended that the remaining 22,800 complaints need to be resolved by the respective District Administration Office in coordination with police administration.

According to Karki, when the Commission was in existence till December 11, 2023, agreement was reached between Sahu and Asami on the petitions of 5,188 victims. As a result, 218 bighas of land has been returned to Asamis. 

“Upon the claims of the creditors that Rs. 7.62 billion is yet to be recovered from the debtors, cases have been settled with an agreement between the two parties for Rs. 1.72 billion. Creditors have dropped their claims of about Rs. 5 billion. 

This testifies how terrible the loan-sharking problem is,” noted Karki.

According to Karki, it is not possible to annul the decisions that have already been made by the court as demanded by the victims.

“The demands of the victims should be discussed with the victims, legal experts, leaders of major parties, and should be explained what is possible and to what extent” he said. 

Chairman Karki said, “In Madhes, after giving a loan of Rs. 100,000, it was customary to make a contract of Rs. 300,000, but nowadays, it has been confirmed that it has increased up to Rs. 500,000 per Rs. 100,000 loans.” 

Can’t return home empty-handed 

However, Nirga Nabin, spokesperson for the Struggle Committee, said, although the fifth round of dialogue has taken place, the government talks team replied that they had no right to address their basic demands. What to discuss with the negotiation team that has not received any right, questioned Nabin. 

Nabin said that there was no discussion after the reconstitution of the Cabinet. 

Amending the National Criminal Procedure (Code) Act, 2017, it has criminalised the case of loan-sharking.

Nabin said that they are not in a situation to return home as the police administration is searching for them issuing an arrest warrant.

“There is no point to return home until there is an environment to live peaceably  at home,” Nabin said.

According to Narayan Bhattarai, Spokesperson and Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs, the police will discuss the issue with the two sides and file a case in the court for those who do not reach an agreement.

According to him, 2,994 complaints have been cleared through mutual understanding as of February 28, 2024. 

Bhattarai said that if the police work in this way, the problem of 23,000 victims can be solved within six to seven months. But, they are not ready to go through this method, said Bhattarai. 

The victims have proposed that they want a separate judicial commission. But the victims have not been able to give a clear answer as to why a separate commission is needed, Bhattarai said. 

“Victims say that a powerful commission should be formed, but they do not have the structure and framework for it,” said Bhattarai. “Since their demands are not clear, there is no other option but to wait for a few months to settle it,” he said.

Why do they take loan? 

“Poor people in Madhes are born in debt, grow up in debt, and die in debt. Due to poverty, there are no other options but to take loans from moneylenders to meet daily expenses, seek medical treatment for illnesses, and provide education to their children. “There is a compulsion for individuals to borrow from moneylenders for various purposes, such as the high expenses related to weddings/festivals, going abroad for employment, paying off others’ debts, purchasing agricultural tools , seeds, fertilisers, medicines, pumps, and construction/repair of houses.” 

It is also observed that taking loans from moneylenders is a necessity to fulfil the requirements of dowry, said Karki. 

Another point is that commercial banks, financial institutions, cooperatives, and microfinance institutions are not very accessible to the poor. Being obligated, there is no option but to go to the moneylenders for a loan. 

Even if banks, financial institutions, cooperatives, and microfinance institutions provide loans, as soon as the term of the loan is crossed, there is a tendency to seize the land by auctioning it and later, the employees working in the said banks work together to sell it to their acquaintances at a minimum price, said Karki. 

Belal Ansari, one of the loan shark victims from Sunsari district, lamented that it has been 38 days since he came to Kathmandu on foot from Mechi but the government is not in a position to listen to the demand even when they started facing health problems. 

He said that he will stay in Kathmandu until the demands of the victims are addressed. 

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