India Not Shining: Cachar Paper Mill Workers In Assam Out Of Work, But No One Cares

Posted by Sourabh Bose in Society
January 23, 2017

I am a resident of the Cachar Paper Mill (CPM) Township, Panchgram under Algapur constituency.

Cachar Paper Mill (a unit of Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited), is situated by the Barak river in the Hailakandi district of Assam between Silchar and Guwahati connector. The mill is located at a distance of 25 km from Silchar. Despite the lack of infrastructural facilities in a remote location, CPM has a continuous record of steady improvement. During the year 2006-07, the mill recorded the highest annual production of 1,03,155 MT registering over 103% capacity utilisation, which was 100%.

This profit-making industry had to face massive loss after the National Green Tribunal imposed a blanket ban on the mining and transportation of coal from Meghalaya.

There are lots of issues which exist mainly due to poor of industrial growth, poor infrastructure, poor roads, poor communications and political reasons.

The following are the major issues being faced by the mill which is badly affecting the people of Panchgram and some areas of Barak Valley in Assam:-

1. Owing to gregarious flowering that started in 2007-08, there was a shortage in bamboo – an important source of raw material. This resulted in lower production at CPM and thereby lower sale volume. The ban on bamboo extraction from Mizoram from March 2011 to January 2014 also added to the crisis. It started getting better since January 2014.

2. The Mill is now 27 years old. The Modernization and Technological Upgradation Plan (MTUP) was initiated in the year 2007-08 but had to take a back seat due to the raw material crisis. Without modernization, the mill can’t compete in the market.

3. The proposed mega block because of Lumding-Silchar railway gauge conversion from October 01, 2014 to March 26, 2015, also affected the Mill Operations.

Due to this, the people of Cachar paper mill township are facing a lot of problems like low supply of water and electricity.

The salary of the employees of Cachar Paper Mill (CPM) has not been disbursed since July 2016, as a result, the employees are being forced to suffer serious financial hardship. Meanwhile, the ward of the employees who are studying outside of the state for higher education are at the brink of being forced to discontinue their studies due to lack of funds.

In January 2016, a large number of contractual employees and labourers from various trade unions blocked NH37 and railway track in Panchgram area for 12 hours, demanding that production in the mill is started again. The police resorted to lathi charge against agitators to vacate the railway track for the Guwahati-Silchar passenger train. The police also fired several rounds in the air and burst tear gas shells and in retaliation, the agitators pelted stones.

Some agitators got injured in this process. Most of the workers of the Cachar Paper Mill have done an indefinite hunger strike from July 19, 2016, seeking immediate revival of production.

The workers blocked NH-37 again at Panchgram on October 5, 2016, seeking immediate resumption of production at the mill. The national main road connects Imphal with Badarpur in Assam.

Over 1 lakh people are involved directly or indirectly with the mill and the suspension of production has created a severe economic crisis in the Barak Valley area of Assam.

Production in both the units has remained shut and we have been left without any support. A lot of voices have been raised, protests have been carried out, for the revival of the Mill, but no action has been taken by the Central or State Government. On March 27, 2016, right before the state assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted a public meeting in Panchgram along with Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. During the meeting, it was assured that the Cachar Paper Mill, a unit of Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd., would be revived and the Central and State Government will extend support for the resumption of normal production immediately. So far, we have seen no change.