The Kerala government's decision to take over a defunct plant of Hindustan Newsprint Limited and resume operations from January 1, 2022, has given the workers and employees of two non-functional paper mills in Assam — the Nagaon and Cachar Paper Mills — renewed hope about a similar proposition.
Two of India's largest paper mills, the Cachar Paper Mill located in Assam's Hailakandi district, and the Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in Assam's Morigaon district, have been defunct since October 2015 and March 2017, respectively. Both these mills, which come under the Ministry of Heavy Industries, were shut down without any formal notice, owing to continuous annual losses.
Since the closure of the mills, at least 98 employees have died due to starvation, inability to afford treatment for illnesses, and other factors. Four of these 97 employees died by suicide- unable to bear the financial burden following the closure of the mills. The employees and workers of the mills have not received any salaries since their closure.
In September 2021, the Assam Government held a meeting with all the unions and associations of the Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL). At the meeting, it was decided that a relief package of about Rs 570 crores would be disbursed to the employees within two months of the National Company Law Tribunal's approval of the proposal submitted with the state government. However, no action has been taken in the matter since then.
On Sunday, the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU) of Nagaon and Cachar Paper Mills appealed to the state government to follow the move taken by the Kerala government and revive the two mills in Assam.
The Kerala-based central PSU had shut down its production plant about two years ago, citing financial losses. The Kerala government took over the company after the Centre had initiated plans to privatise the unit.
According to reports, the new company, Kerala Paper Products Limited (KPPL), under the state government, is set to achieve full-scale operation in four phases over 46 months. The unit will be able to employ more than 3,000 people upon being fully operational.
Speaking to EastMojo, JACRU president Manobendra Chakraborty praised the move of the Kerala government to take over and revive the paper plant, which would not only result in optimum utilisation of local resources but provide employment to youths.
"The new company in Kerala will resume a trial run on January 1, 2022, before commencing commercial operations from May 1, 2022. While the Kerala government has certainly led the way to show how a defunct central PSU can be taken over and revived, we are yet to see the same happening regarding the HPCL-owned non-functional mills," Chakraborty said.
"As many as 98 employees and workers of the two paper mills in Assam, who have not received their salaries and other financial dues for years together, have died after not being able to afford the cost of their medical treatment," he added.
The JACRU president appealed to the state government to pay the pending salaries of the employees and workers of the two mills so that they "remain alive".
"We trust that the current dispensation would consider our woes and give us justice. Else, the upcoming generations will not forgive the government," Chakraborty told EastMojo.