On April 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the Bengali Hindu-dominated Silchar Lok Sabha constituency of Assam to address an election rally. Silchar, along with Mangaldoi, Nagaon, Autonomous district (Diphu) and Karimganj will go to polls on April 18.
Just about four km from the rally venue, a set of protesters were mouthing slogans against Modi, reminding the prime minister of an earlier electoral promise – revival of two paper mills run by the Centre-owned Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL).
The HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee, a joint body of the workers’ unions of Cachar Paper Mill and Nagaon Paper Mill in Assam, expressed its fury over the “silence” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue of the non-functional paper mills.
Modi reportedly made that promise to the employees of the the Cachar and Nagaon paper mills – situated in the state’s Barak and Brahmaputra Valley respectively – in the run-up to the the 2016 assembly elections.
Against the backdrop of the Silchar railway station, the protesters, comprising employees affected by the closure of the Cachar unit since 2015, were shouting, “Pradhan Mantri go back, go back! We shall not allow the killer of so many of our employees into Silchar!”
Manobendra Chakraborty, chief convener of the committee, said the government’s careless attitude has killed 51 workers of the mills so far and many more are on the verge of death. “The government has murdered these workers,” he said, and attributed poverty, excessive stress and lack of medical treatment for the deaths.
He said though the mills’ workers and their families have been suffering for the past several months due to non-payment of salaries, the government seems to be in a state of slumber and shows no urgency to remit the salaries.
The committee had staged an agitation in Silchar on Thursday in protest against the death of the mills’ 51 workers. The agitation was staged before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival at Ramnagar. Over 40 protesters were detained while they were about move towards Ramnagar. They were later released in the evening.
The mill, run by the state-owned Hindustan Paper Corporation, is shut since October 2015. In his March 2016 speech, Modi promised that if the BJP came to power in Assam, the mill would be revived.
The BJP won an absolute majority. But the paper mill remains closed and even its sister unit in Middle Assam’s Nagaon constituency, also called Nawgong, stopped production in March 2017. On April 11, the mills were not even a footnote in the prime minister’s speech.
Nagaon and Silchar go to the polls on March 18.
The mill workers’ unions allege that the suspension of operations was part of a plan to help private players. “When our mills closed, quality paper went at Rs 48,000 per metric tonne,” Chakraborty said. “Now it has gone up to over Rs 1 lakh. This has all been done to favour the private lobby. This government just wants to privatise everything.”
The two mills are currently in the middle of a corporate insolvency process under the aegis of the National Company Law Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body. An insolvency process is initiated when a company is unable to pay its debts. The delay in arriving at a resolution, mill workers and officials contended, was further proof of the government’s apathy. “They have bailed out so many other public sector companies, why not us?” asked Bordoloi.
It may be mentioned that Congress president Rahul Gandhi, during his visit to Barak Valley recently, announced that the paper mills will be revived within six months if the Congress comes to power. Mahila Congress president and Silchar Congress candidate Sushmita Dev during a rally at Itkhola in Silchar on Friday reiterated that both the mills will be made functional within a period of six months if the Congress comes to power.
Feature Image Is Used For Representaional Purpose Only.
What do you think about this? Tell us in the comments section and stay connected with Awaaznation for all updates.