By Sangam Prasain
Kathmandu, Aug 30 (EFE).- Prem Narayan Koiri, drowning in debt after having fallen prey to loan sharks, arrives at Nepal’s seat of power every morning to demand justice from the government, along with dozens of other demonstrators representing the hundreds of such cases across the country.
Koiri, from the southern district of Nawalparasi, took a loan of one million Nepalese rupees (about $7,800) seven years ago to build his home from a local money lender, Basanta Kohar.
The 76-year-old was forced to put his over 4,000 square meters of farmland as collateral against the loan that came at an exorbitant interest rate of 60 percent per year.
This has led to him paying back nearly double the initial loan amount while while still being required to pay another 4.2 million rupees to retrieve the certificate of ownership of his land.
“I took the loan at 60 percent of interest rate annually,” Koiri, a farmer without any formal education, told EFE. “Kohar, the money lender, says he will seize my land once I die.”
Powerless before the money lender, Koiri has been trying to get help from the local administration for almost a year. “But no one is ready to listen to our appeal,” he rued.
Finally, Koiri went to Kathmandu, where, like him, many other victims of loan sharks have been demonstrating every day for almost a month in front of government offices demanding the state to intervene.
“I will not return to my village until justice is served. I will breathe my last here if the authorities fail to give justice,” a resolute Koiri stressed.
Several dozens of people – many without formal education – congregate everyday in the administrative heart of Kathmandu, sharing similar stories of abusive interests that have plunged them into a spiral of debt.
“I took (a loan of) 112,000 rupees in 2005 to send my younger brother to Qatar for foreign employment,” Lala Prasad Kewat, another demonstrator, told EFE.
“I already paid 240,000 rupees to my lender. But he is not returning my land ownership certificate even after I cleared the loans with interest,” he added.
The moneylender, Jagdish Banya, was detained by the police, but Kewat has not recovered his documents yet.
The Nepalese government calls these loan sharks “meter byaji,” drawing a parallel between their rates and the speed of a taximeter, as they serve as lenders to those without access to bank loans.
Amid persistent pressure from the demonstrators, the Home Ministry formed a working group on Aug.12 to examine their complaints.
The following day, the government asked the victims to register a formal complaint at their respective District Administration Offices by Aug.21.
Home Ministry spokesperson Phanindra Mani Pokharel told EFE that around 1,937 complaints had been registered against loan sharks across the country by the given date. The deadline, however has been done away with.
“Since it (usury) has been reviewed as an illegal act, which is harmful to society at large, the government has not kept a deadline to file complaints,” he explained.
Ram Surat Gupta, president of an ad-hoc committee formed by the victims to exert pressure on the government, told EFE that the loan sharks are everywhere, mostly in the southern Tarai districts that border India, and target the poor people who are desperate for money.
“They are loan sharks. The government, however, is protecting them,” he said, frustrated at the delay in government action even after weeks of protests.