While the BJP-led central government continues its steps to privatise the Hindustan Newsprint Limited (HNL), the Left-ruled Kerala Government has doubled its efforts to acquire the Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE).
As many as 364 regular employees and about 400 contract workers in Hindustan Newsprint Limited (HNL), which is enlisted for disinvestment by the BJP-led Centre, have not been paid their salaries for the last 13 months. The employees of HNL which is located at Velloor in Kottayam district of Kerala had received their last payment in October 2018.
“Both regular and contract staff have not been paid their salaries since October 2018. Unions and employees have raised this issue and even protested, but nothing has been done,” TB Mohanan, the working president of HNL Employees’ Union, which is affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) told NewsClick.
“Few of the younger staff have managed to find other jobs, but majority of the workers are living in misery,” Mohanan said.
The reason being cited by the management for non-payment of the salaries is that the company is not profitable. However, the denial of salaries have pushed workers into several hardships with one of the employees, Sivadasan Nair, who had been working there for the last 37 years, killing himself on October 29 as he failed to find the money for his wife’s treatment who is suffering from cancer.
In June this year, a senior manager who had come from the corporate office of Hindustan Paper Corporation limited (HPCL) had reportedly tried committing suicide. The senior manager was not able to send money to home for the higher studies of his daughter. Since the neighbours found him in time, he was saved. Apart from this, two other workers have also tried committing suicide due to the uncertainty in HNL.
Now, the Kerala government which has been opposing the disinvestment of HNL has taken steps to acquire the company. The government has even approached the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) that had liquidated the HPCL. The hearing is scheduled for November 17.
Also read: HNL Disinvestment Drive: Employees Face Uncertain Future
HNL which is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Department of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hindustan Paper Corporation limited (HPCL) on June 07, 1983.
When the company was established, the then government of Kerala acquired about 700 acres of land and handed it over for the company. Over the period of time, the company developed a township with the state government's coordination. As the raw material required by the company is pulp from the eucalyptus tree and the bamboo reed, the state government supplies that at subsidised rates, for the company generates employment and helps the state to develop. The company gets subsidised water and power, too, from the state government.
Besides, in 1963, the Government of Kerala allotted 5,600 hectares pulpwood plantation belonging to the Forest Department to the company, for its captive plantation of raw material. But, now, only 3,035 hectares remain, as the rest was lost to encroachment and other similar reasons. When the company faced financial troubles, the state government exempted it for two years from the Kerala GST (KGST) Act, though the Government of India refused to extend the same benefit under the Income Tax Act.
The efforts to privatise HNL had begun long back. In 2002, the central government tried to sell the company to a private entity. But following the employees' agitation, the government could not go ahead.
Earlier on October 24, 2016, Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, requested the Government of India to delink the company from its holding company. He also requested the Union Government to make it an independent enterprise under the Department of Heavy Industries. So, it will have more operational freedom.
Since there was no response from the Centre on the request made by the state government, Kerala Newsprint Employees Union had approached the Kerala High Court in 2018. In this petition, the court had sought explanation from the state Ministry of Industries. In the reply, Industries Department undersecretary had stated that the decision to hand over the land is illegal. If the Centre is giving off the company to private players, State can step back from the contract on land and it is mentioned in the agreement, that the State had made its stand on this issue quite clear.
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