The protests and appeal against the sale of two paper mills owned by the government-run Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd (HPCL) has been mounting rapidly in the BJP-ruled Assam.
The main Opposition Congress, Raijor Dal led by jailed MLA Akhil Gogoi, Assam Jatiya Parishad, the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU) and various other organisations and individuals have been urging the Centre as well as the Assam government to stop the sale of the two defunct paper mills owned by the HPCL.
In separate letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam Congress President Ripun Bora said that a suitable revival package can be prepared to protect the two paper mills and the employees as the Kerala government took over Hisdustan News Print Ltd, a subsidiary unit of HPCL.
Bora, a Rajya Sabha member, in his letter to PM said : “I think it is not necessary to remind you about your repeated commitment in many occasions of election campaigning meetings while you visited Assam during 2014, 2016, 2019 and even 2021 to revive the two paper mills by giving special economic packages.”
Production at the HPCL’s Cachar Paper Mill (CPM) in Hailakandi district closed on October 20, 2015 while the Nagaon Paper Mill (NPM) at Jagiroad in Morigaon has remained shut since March 13, 2017. Over 2,500 employees of both have not received salaries for over four years.
AJP (a regional party) president Lurinjyoti Gogoi said the party would launch an online petition-cum-signature campaign against the sale of the two vital paper mills.Referring to the Prime Minister’s promise since 2014 to revive the two plants Gogoi said that the two plants are considered as the pride of Assam, a source of direct and indirect employment for thousands of people, and have a sentimental value for the people of the state.
Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev, in a letter to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, requested him to stop the sale of the two important paper mills.
“Kerala government took over the unit of Hindustan Newsprint Ltd at Kottayam. Your government also recently approved the biggest-ever investment of over Rs 2,000 crore to raise Assam government’s stake in the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) in Golaghat to 26 per cent from the 12.5 per cent.
I hope the Assam government will show the same spirit and rescue the two paper mills and protect the interest of the employees from going into private hands at a meagre cost of Rs 1,100 odd crore,” she said.
Dev noted that the CPM in Panchgram is the only public sector industry in Assam’s Barak valley and Modi himself had repeatedly assured that these industries would be revived in the greater interest of Assam.
During the recently-held Assembly election, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other central ministers and BJP leaders also renewed their assurance to save the two mills, she added.
“More pertinently the election manifesto of BJP also gave commitment for the re-opening of the NPM although, to our dismay, there was no mention of the CPM,” Dev said.
The National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) recently allowed the HPCL to hold an e-auction of the two paper mills on June 30.The JACRU has been agitating to revive the two paper mills and strongly opposing the sale of the two paper mills.
President of the JACRU, Manobendra Chakraborty said that the value of the assets of the two mills would be at least Rs 5,000 crore even though the reserve price for the e-auction has been set a meager ARs 1,139 crore.The two paper mills also have the immovable properties of over 2000 acres of land.
“Last year only, the NCLT asked the HPCL to resume the production of the two paper mills. But mysteriously the NCLT, all of a sudden, changed its decision,” he said.
According to the JACRU, so far 88 poverty stricken workers of the two mills have died, four of them by suicide, during the past 54 months.