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Unpaid for Over 4 Years, Unable to Afford Treatment, Assam Paper Mill Worker Dies ; Toll Rises to 101

The deceased worker, like his colleagues, was not paid his salaries for over four years, which led him to not being able to afford medical treatment.

The death toll of workers of two Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL)-owned ‘closed’ mills reached 101 on Sunday night as an employee of Cachar Paper Mill passed away at Panchgram in Hailakandi district of Assam, East Mojo reported. He, similar to other employees of the two paper mills, had not received his salary for over four and a half years. 

The deceased person, Bazlul Hakim Laskar, a 63-year-old technician (recovery electrical department) at Cachar Paper Mill, was suffering from prolonged diabetes and kidney-related ailments. He could not afford necessary treatment. Laskar’s health started deteriorating at around 11pm on Sunday and he finally passed away at his residence on Sunday night, according to the report. 

Manobendra Chakraborty, president of the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU) of the two mills--Cachar and Nagaon-- told the news publication that it was extremely “unfortunate” that the workers there were dying helplessly because they did not receive their wages and thus, could not afford medical treatment. 

“As a matter of fact, all workers of the mills are passing days with unbearable suffering, stress and trauma as they have lost all hope to live life with human dignity as they have not been paid salary since the past 62 months,” Chakraborty told East Mojo

The JACRU president blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for the rising deaths of the employees and hoped it would soon realise its responsibility of clearing the pending wages of the mills’ workers. He also stressed that the workers’ salaries should be remitted urgently to avoid further deaths. He said a protests would be launched if the demand was not fulfilled. 

On September 28, 2021, there was “relief and optimism” when the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led state government and the workers’ representatives reached an agreement to mitigate the pending issues of salary disbursal and other dues, Chakraborty said. 

The agreement offered a relief package of Rs 570 crore to be disbursed to the paper mill employees within two months after the National Company Law Tribunal approves the proposal submitted by the Assam government. 

On Tuesday, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in the House that the Assam Government will take over the land and property of Nagaon Paper Mill and Cachar Paper Mill - the two defunct paper mills owned by the Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd. He added that the takeover process was nearly finished.

"The Assam Government is ready to acquire the assets of the two paper mills. The government only has to pay the property valuation amount by March 31," the Chief Minister was quoted as saying by The Sentinel Assam.

He said that the government had already announced a relief package, which will also be used to clear all the pending bills of the Assam State Electricity Board. He added that as per the earlier promise, the government will clear all pending dues of the employees within a month.

Claiming that the revival of the two paper mills was not viable, the Assam Government has proposed to set up small-scale industries on the land of the mills. 

JACRU had earlier said it would not to allow “occupation” of land and property of the two HPCL mills in Assam by any private entity.

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