In yet another case of citizen intervention for the revival of a dying paper mill, residents of Assam’s Panchagram town will come together for a ‘Nagarik Sabha’ on June 3 in a bid to help Cachar Paper Mill from biting the dust. Notably, the mill shut down operations on October 20, 2015, post which the 400-odd contractual workers have been rendered jobless with no payment of salaries as well.
The dismal conditions of the contract workers came to the limelight when they went for a hunger strike following the non-payment of 23 months of salary on April 23, 2018. Although the government has since then cleared only three months of wages on April 21, May 15 and May 29 respectively, over 20 months of payments are remaining due.
Surojit Ghosh, General Secretary of Centre Of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), while talking to The Logical Indian said that on the eve of 31st March, the management had suspended the mill’s 413 contractual workers with immediate effect. “They did not even give prior notice,” claimed Ghosh.
After many ineffective rounds of meetings with the high priests of the state and failure to draw attention, the employees of the now-defunct paper mill have decided to take a step to involve the residents of Panchagram township as well.
Dipak Nath, Secretary of Officer and Supervisor Association at Cachar Paper Mill, while talking to The Logical Indian said, “We have met with the Chief Minister Of Assam and Members of Parliament as well. However, nothing has materialised so far. Hence, it is our next step to involve the citizens as well.”
He further said that the paper mill sustains the small township of Panchagram and its surrounding villages. “Business in the town has gone down by 50% ever since the mill shut down operations in 2015,” added Nath.
A Brief History Of Cachar Paper Mill
Cachar Paper Mill, a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the larger Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HCPL) is the lone heavy industrial undertaking in south Assam and the adjoining states of Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura, which started its production in 1987.
Before the closure of the mill, it had a production capacity of 300 metric tonnes (MT) of writing and newsprint paper a day, while annually, it could produce up to one lakh metric tonnes of paper.
Manabendra Chakraborty, the president of the Cachar Paper Project Workers’ Union, while talking to The Logical Indian said that the mill was producing a surplus in the late 2000’s and that it was paying a dividend to the government as well.
Coming down heavily on the present government, he said, “If the government had to help revive the mill, they could’ve done so in 2015 only.”
Further explaining, Chakraborty said that a combination of acute shortage of bamboo as a result of bamboo flowering from 2007 to 2012, coupled with the complete ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on mining and transportation of coal from Meghalaya has contributed to the plant’s downfall.
Even though the adversity could be averted, mismanagement by the government, as well as confusions, inevitably led to the closure.
Revival Of The Mill
Not only has the mill been closed for over two and a half years, but it has resulted in massive losses as well, especially concerning raw materials. Surojit Ghosh, while condemning the atrocity said that there had been large-scale wastage of raw materials.
“Bamboos worth Rs. 50 crore, and coal worth Rs. 10 crores has been wasted since the mill has been dysfunctional for two and a half years,” added Ghosh.
With the gradual increase in the project cost, the Government has estimated the revival package of HCPL’S Cachar Paper Mill and Nagaon Paper Mill to be around Rs. 1800 crores, said Manabendra Chakraborty.
The Nagaon Paper Mill, located just 80 kms from Guwahati is another dying mill under HCPL which also needs revival. This will shut down its production in 2017 under similar circumstances.
In a similar incident, The Logical Indian has also reported on the employee protests which are ongoing with regard to India’s oldest, Nepa Paper Mills in Nepanagar, Madhya Pradesh.