File Photo: Debabrata Saikia

Leader of Opposition in Assam Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, has demanded revival of Hindustan Paper Corporation (HPC) paper industries in Assam “for generation of large-scale employment and alleviating wretched economic condition of Assam”, especially in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 28, Saikia pointed that revival of the Assam-based Nagaon Paper Mill and Cachar Paper Mill under HPC had been a pre-election promise of Modi as well as Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

He further mentioned that the Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, as per proposal of CCEA and under instruction of the PMO, had decided to revive the mills with a time-bound schedule.

“Even Assam’s Minister for Commerce & Industries, Chandra Mohan Patowary subsequently stated in the Assam Legislative Assembly that a revival package worth Rs 800 crore had been prepared for the two paper mills. I had myself requested the chief minister of Assam to sanction a package of Rs 400 crore so that the paper mills could at least recommence production and thereby earn advance payment against orders from purchasers. I came to know later that a revival plan worth Rs 1,900 crore has been lying in the PMO since 2018,” Saikia wrote.

However, the two paper mills are now facing liquidation for inability to pay liability amounting to only Rs 98 lakh and the employees have not been paid salaries for over three-and-a-half years, the Congress leader claimed.

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He added, “As many as 67 employees of these mills have died during this period, of whom 3 persons died by suicide under compelling circumstances due to non-payment of salaries/statutory dues. The employees’ unions state that the mills have not received any amount remotely close Rs 4,141 crore during the period in question.”

With the two paper mills remaining inoperative, around two lakh families have been deprived of direct and indirect employment, and also stymied economic growth of rural Assam because these industries were based on bamboo cultivation, Saikia said, adding that local people supplied around 8 lakh MT of bamboo per annum to the two mills.

Further highlighting the economic stagnation and unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdown, Saikia urged immediate action to revive those industries which are capable of generating large-scale employment opportunities and thereby bring economic activities back on track.

“Moreover, it is also a matter of grave concern that India is importing paper from China at the cost of draining our valuable Forex reserves to meet huge domestic requirement,” he added.

He further maintained that some local entrepreneurs have expressed interest in operating the paper mills, if the existing liabilities are taken care of by the government.

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