The authority undertaking the auction of the two paper mills belonging to Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd. (HPCL) in Nagaon and Cachar, has now served an evacuation notice to the mill’s employees in connection with the impending liquidation. The notices addressed to all erstwhile officers, workers and employees, ask them to vacate residential quarters allocated to them.
This heartless act has sent shockwaves across Assam given how it comes amidst a raging Covid-19 pandemic, and also successive floods! As many as 900 people stand to lose their safe havens due to these eviction notices.
SabrangIndia had previously reported on how the workers’ unions had demanded the revival of the paper mills that have been defunct for five years. Production stopped at the Cachar mill on October 20, 2015 and at the Nagaon mill from March 13, 2017. However, this was done allegedly, without even a proper closure notice! These mills were huge public sector undertakings and when they shut down, it was the end of a stable source of livelihood for hundreds of people.
Meanwhile, the wages of about 1,200 employees of the mill have been suspended for more than 50 months. The factory workers have failed to get their dues despite many protests. According to the mill workers’ union, at least 87 employees have died since the mills stopped functioning; some from anxiety due to the sudden shut down, and some because they were unable to afford medical assistance when they fell ill.
The failure to revive the mills felt like a huge betrayal given how Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself assured that the mills would be revived. While campaigning for the 2021 Assam assembly elections, Union Minister Amit Shah also promised that the paper mills would be revived.
The liquidation process was initiated under directions from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). This is because HPCL owes Alloys and Metals India about Rs 98 crores that the latter wants to recover. HPCL was also unable to continue operations due to shortage of working capital. However, though the auction was initially set for June 2021, there were delays as no private entity deposited the requisite earnest money of Rs 55 crores by June 15, reported The Hindu. The reserve price was set at Rs 1,139 crores.
Meanwhile associations of officers and employees had moved court challenging the liquidation. At the hearing on June 16, when the court was informed that earnest money had not been received, the court observed that e-auction was not going to take place.
Manabendra Chakrabarty, president of the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions, had told SabrangIndia at the time the liquidation was initiated, that it was not beyond the government’s ability to find a humane solution, saying, “If Kerala government was able to revive the mills in their state, then why not the Assam government? If the state government wants, they can. Let the Chief Minister of the state revive the two mills. He can.”
After the e-auction was cancelled, he told The Hindu, “Now that the e-auctioning is not happening, the government should live up to its promise and revive its wholly-owned mills to end the trauma and torture of the employees who have not been paid their dues for 54 months.”
But it has been almost three months, and far from paying dues to families struggling doubly hard in wake of not just the loss of their steady source of livelihood, but also the Covid-19 pandemic, the liquidator now wants them to vacate their homes!
The eviction notices may be read here: