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Assam Paper Mills: Not Paid Salary for Over 54 Months, Employee Dies Due to Lack of Money for Treatment

NPM is one of the two paper mills of the government-owned Hindustan Paper Mill Corporation (HPCL), the other being the Panchgram Paper Mill in Cachar district, which have been unable to resume operations despite the central government’s repeated assurances for the last five years.
Nagaon Paper mill

On June 24, another employee of the defunct Nagaon Paper Mill in Assam died due to a cardiac arrest, after reportedly failing to arrange money for treatment because of non-payment of salary for over four and half years.

NPM is one of the two paper mills of the government-owned Hindustan Paper Mill Corporation (HPCL), the other being the Panchgram Paper Mill in Cachar district, which have been unable to resume operations despite the central government’s repeated assurances for the last five years.

According to the president of the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions, Manabendra Chakraborty, the death of the 58-year-old employee of the Nagaon Paper Mill has taken the death toll of the two mills to 90, including four suicides within a span of just four years, reported NE Now.

He added that this is the fifth death among employees of HPCL after the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led government assumed power in the state in May this year. Notably, the younger son of the employee had also passed away in 2019 due to serious illness.

While production at the Cachar Paper Mill was stopped in October 20, 2015, the NPM shut down operations in March 13, 2017, owing to “lack of working capital”. However, according to the employees, the production at the paper mill in Nagaon was “stopped abruptly, even though everything was proceeding smoothly”.

There are also allegations of government’s ‘conspiracy’ to close down the mills to favour private paper product-making firms.

Also read: ‘Govt of India is Responsible for my Death”, Says Alleged Suicide Note by Nagaon Paper Mill Engineer Who Killed Himself

As reported by NewsClick earlier, both companies were declared insolvent on June 13, 2018, as per a National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) order after the HPCL had declared itself unable to pay the dues of one its creditors M/s. Alloys and Metals.

The NE Now report also stated that over 1,200 employees from the two paper mills are yet to be paid their remaining monetary dues which include pensions, salaries, provident funds and others.

Meanwhile, the employees of the defunct paper mills have continued to protest demanding their rights over the past several years, including extreme forms of protest such as declaring to die by mass suicide. The employees have also blocked the national highway and railway line multiple times but to no avail, as NewsClick had reported.

On the other hand, the central and state government have made several commitments, including PM Modi’s assurance to revive the two mills in 2016 during a rally in Panchagram ahead of the state Assembly elections. The former chief minister of the state, Sarbananda Sonowal had also made a similar announcement of restarting production in the mills within six months on November 2017, which has not yielded any results.

Several revival packages have also been proposed including one worth Rs 1,000 crore under public-private partnership in 2017, which did not materialise. However, in October 2018, advertisements appeared in national newspapers inviting bids, whereby only 49% of the stakes will be held by the government. This indirect announcement of privatisation by the government resulted in huge protests by the workers.

The total dues of the mills’ employees until December of 2019 was over Rs 620 crore.

Also read: As Assam Paper Mill Employees Await Salary of 36 Months, Children 'Beg' for Donation on Streets

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