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Editorial: Don’t ignore loan shark victims

Editorial: Don’t ignore loan shark victims

The government criminalized loan sharking in July last year following a series of protests launched by usury victims. The majority of loan shark victims were poor people leading subsistence living. They had taken loans from unscrupulous lenders for various reasons, from paying medical expenses to sending their sons abroad for foreign employment and paying for their daughters’ weddings. In exchange, they offered what little land they owned as collateral or agreed to pay the interest rates dictated by the lenders.

Little did they know that they had agreed on an impossible deal, that they would forever be indebted to their lenders or lose their collateral. It was as if they had been held hostage by their lenders.         

With the passing of the law that came into effect following the amendment to the National Criminal Procedure (Code) Act 2017, it was expected that the loan sharking victims would finally be free of their financial troubles. Convicted loan sharks could face jail terms of up to seven years with fines up to Rs 70,000. In case of those loan sharks found guilty of confiscating cash or property from borrowers, the law prescribed that they return the equivalent cash or property.

The government also formed a commission to investigate and resolve usury-related cases. The commission recorded thousands of complaints in the initial weeks and many loan shark victims were finally unburdened from their seemingly unending debt cycle. But not everyone got justice. Many loan shark victims still do not seem to have recourse to legal channels. They are still resorting to protests and demonstrations to make themselves heard. 

Usury victims from various parts of the country are still walking all the way to Kathmandu to demand justice. This is a cause for concern; clearly the law has not deterred loan sharks from exploiting the poor. Many victims say that their lenders are too powerful and politically connected. The government should make sure that the concerned authorities prosecute those loan sharks, no matter how powerful or politically linked they are. No one is above the law.