The Assam government on September 29 signed an agreement with the workers and employees of two paper mills owned by the government-run Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd (HPCL) to resolve issues of their salaries and dues, pending for 56 months.
Officials said that the agreement was signed between the government and the unions of the two paper mills after a marathon discussion of over four hours at the office of chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma for a relief package of Rs 570 crore for the employees.
After the much-expected deal, Sarma tweeted: “Finally reached agreement with the workers and employees of Hindustan Paper Corporation to resolve long pending issues of their salaries and dues.”
Production at the HPCL’s Cachar Paper Mill in Hailakandi district stopped on October 20, 2015 while the Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in Morigaon has remained shut since March 13, 2017.
Over 2,500 employees of both the mills have not received salaries for over four years.
According to the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU), which is spearheading the agitation for the past many years demanding opening of the two paper mills, since the shutdown of the two mills 95 employees have died, including 3 who committed suicide.
Appreciating the chief minister for announcing the relief package of around Rs 570 crore for the workers and employees, JACRU president Manobendra Chakraborty said on September 29 that repeated commitments given by leaders of the central and state governments and Sarma’s predecessors did not fructify.
Highlighting the provisions of the agreement, the JACRU in a statement said that the assets of HPCL would remain with the Assam government, the relief package of around Rs 570 crore would be disbursed within two months on approval of proposals, submitted by the state government to the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
According to the agreement, permanent jobs will be given to 100 workers and employees in the state government entities through a special recruitment drive and doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff would also be given employment.
The protests and appeals against the sale of the two paper mills had been continuing for many years in the state.
The main opposition Congress, Raijor Dal led by MLA Akhil Gogoi, Assam Jatiya Parishad, the CPI-M 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.
Criticising the BJP government for taking over seven years to resolve the serious issue, Trinamool Congress MP Sushmita Dev while reacting to Wednesday’s agreement said that it seemed that the two paper mills would not be opened.
“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,” Dev said in her recent letter to the Assam chief minister.
During the March-April assembly election, Union home minister Amit Shah and other central ministers and BJP leaders also renewed their assurance to save the two mills.
The NCLT a few months back allowed the HPCL to hold an e-auction of the two paper mills. However, the e-auction was not held.
JACRU president 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 meagre Rs 1,139 crore.
The two paper mills also have immovable properties of over 2000 acres of land.