Exclusive: Assam: HPC Mill Workers Victims Of PM Modi’s Broken Promises; No Salary In 24 Months, 37 Dead Due to Poor Health and Starvation
The revival plan for the Cachar and Jagiroad Paper Mills has reportedly been lying in the PMO awaiting approval.
After repeatedly getting backstabbed by the Modi government and Sarbananda Sonowal-led BJP government in Assam, the HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee (HPCPMRAC) called a bandh on Thursday, November 22 demanding re-opening of the Nagaon and Cachar paper mills of the Hindustan Paper Corporation (HPC). The bandh was largely successful as schools, colleges, offices and business establishments remained shut across Barak Valley for 12 hours. It was also supported by the Congress and Left parties like the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist).
“During Assam assembly elections in 2016, the prime minister promised that the paper mills will re-open, he made the statements while campaigning in Barak Valley and near Nagaon as well. But, nothing happened. The Cachar and Jagiroad Paper Mills Revival Plan is in PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) awaiting approval,” Mr Dipak Chandra Nath, Cachar Paper Mill Officers and Supervisors Association General Secretary, told NewsCentral24x7. “The salaries of the employees are pending since the past 24 months,” he added.
Why were the mills shut down?
Both the paper mills were running under loss. An acute shortage of raw materials like bamboo and coal aggravated the problems. “Due to the gregarious flowering of bamboo, we had to import pulp from Indonesia, Malaysia, and other countries. Later, due to an NGT order, coal production was banned in Meghalaya. We imported coal from Australia, but that was not suitable to the weather condition here, with rain, the coal used to turn muddy. Moreover, transporting materials to Panchgram was a problem,” Nath said, explaining why the Cachar Paper Mill accumulated losses.
The paper mill at Panchgram was shut down on October 20, 2015, while production at the Nagaon Paper Mill was stopped on March 13, 2017.
In October 2017, reports had suggested that the Modi government is roping in private companies to revive the mills under a Rs 1,000-crore plan. Nath, however, underlined that no plan has materialised yet, even after the workers of the mill met Chief Minister Sonowal as many as 14 times to discuss the issue. “Every time, we get to hear the same assurances. Last November, during Namami Barak event in Silchar, Union Minister Babul Supriyo said in the presence of Sonowal and President Ram Nath Kovind that the mills will re-open within six months. It’s been a year now, forget about re-opening, we have not even received our salaries yet,” Nath said.
Speaking to journalists, Mr Manabendra Chakraborty, chief convener of HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee, said, “Already, 37 employees of the mills have died owing to starvation and poor health. The central and state government should take up the matter immediately.” On August 24, the committee met President Ram Nath Kovind who assured them that an amount of Rs 90 crore will be disbursed for payment of pending salaries of the employees. Three months on, the workers have not received a rupee.
No salary, no vote
The workers are no longer sitting and waiting for the government to come through on the numerous promises it has made. After the successful execution of the November 22 bandh which was supported by political parties as well as the citizenry, the aggrieved HPC mill workers are now eyeing the panchayat elections, scheduled for December 5 and 9 in the state, to make their protests heard. With the slogan ‘No salary, no vote’ they have announced that they will boycott the local-body elections if the government fails to pay their salaries by that time.