Around 6,000 employees of Cachar Paper Mill, as well as Nagaon Paper Mill of Assam, have been affected after the mills closed down in October 2015 and March 2017 respectively. Workers of these non-operational Paper Mills in Assam have not been paid in three years.
The Cachar Paper Mill is a unit of Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited, situated at Panchgram, around 25 km away from the city of Silchar, Assam. Not only the employees of the unit have not received their salaries for the past 44 and 42 months respectively but also 71 of them have died. Out of these 71, three ended their lives allegedly because of infirmities they suffered after they stopped receiving salaries. Around 550 casual workers had been suspended in April 2018.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call on “vocal about local” has again raised the question about the non-functional paper mill, where employees haven’t received their salaries for 44 and 42 months respectively. The paper mill was set up in 1988 at Panchgram around 25 km from Silchar, Assam and had a staff of 637 (70 executives, 42 supervisors and 525 workers).
The chief convener of the HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee and president of Cachar Paper Project Workers’ Union, Manobendra Chakraborty said, “The government has not officially notified closure of the mill, workers have to mark their attendance daily. Also, staffing is needed, and the mill provides essential services like water supply and fire service to the area. Over 20 workers have died from trauma and stress-related complications and lack of funds to get proper medical treatment. Many more will die if the government does not take prompt steps to pay the salaries and revive the mill.”
He also added, “Sarbananda Sonowal government had announced during the Namami Barak fest held in Silchar in 2017 that the mill would be revived and pending salaries would be paid within two to three months, nothing has happened. He threatened large-scale protests if the government did not take some measures soon.”
On Tuesday, September 22, 2020. Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy also raised this issue. He said, “Permanent and contractual combined, 4,000 people are employed in these two mills. Not only that, but about one lakh bamboo farmers also earned a living by selling produced goods to these two mills. Both the mills are shut, and it is a serious situation.”
The HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee is a conglomerate of workers’ unions of Cachar Paper Mill and Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in central Assam. It has been non-functional since 31st March 2017 too. Their employees haven’t got their salaries either!
Apparently, there have been attempts to sell off the mill and its land, Manabendra Chakraborty said, “He had already filed a petition in 2016 about the issues related to provident fund and pension and sought the NHRC’s involvement. The commission, in the end, took up the matter with the Union ministry of heavy industries, but the latter never submitted a report or appeared in person before it. They kept delaying the whole process, citing different reasons. The NHRC has also asked the ministry to explain the delay. We have submitted a review petition with the commission in 2017 after our salaries were stopped.”
The entire picture was presented in a written format before our honorable President as a plea for help after all the discussions. The government sanctioned a bill of ₹90 crores before the parliament, which was passed recently on August 27, 2018. Then, the money went to the industry authorities, but the workers got nothing. A senior HPC official said, “Whenever we got in touch with the government, they replied that the matter is under active consideration.” Just the salary due to the mill employees will be around ₹500 crores, including provident fund, gratuity and other allowances.
In October 2015, when Tarun Gogoi was Assam’s Chief Minister, and Narendra Modi was the Prime Minister of India, Cachar Paper Mill was closed citing a shortage of working capital. On March 27, 2016, Prime Minister Modi and the then CM candidate from BJP Sarbananda Sonowal, had held a huge public meeting in Panchgram. While campaigning, PM Modi tempted the voters of Barak Valley saying, “Elect the BJP to Assembly, and we will revive both Cachar and Nagaon Paper Mill.”
Now, Assam Pradesh Congress President, Ripun Bora, said, “Sarbananda Sonowal government only made fake promises. Instead of reviving the mills, the BJP conspired to sell it to private players. While in Kerala, the mills have been revived, in Assam, the employees had to die without treatment as they have not got their wages for more than three years.
They have turned Assam into a syndicate-raj. All of them are busy filling their own pockets and building their personal properties. They have no time to think about the well-being of the local people. Elect Congress to the state and the government will revive both the mills and bring an end to the mass suffering.”
Talking to Sentinel, trade union activist Manabendra Chakraborty said, “While voicing for the revival of HPC Paper Mills, Roy deliberately avoided the alleged scam of ₹4,141 crores that were invested in HPC Paper Mill during 2014-2015 to 2018-2019. Through an open call, we have demanded to dig out the details of 4,141 crore investment in the name of HPC revival that had become trace-less while both the industries were made inoperative. During the same period, 70 workers died, and three of them committed suicide under compelling circumstances due to nonpayment of salary/ statutory dues for the last 45 months.”
Hindustan Paper Corporation’s two units, one in Panchgram and another in Jagi Road, have remained defunct for more than 44 months. The employees of the mills have not got their hard-earned wages and aren’t even allowed to withdraw the provident funds. They are being deprived of their arrears and dearness allowances too.