GUWAHATI: An employee named Satish Chandra Patowary (58) of the closed Nagaon Paper Mill of the Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL) died of a cardiac arrest at Jagiroad in Assam’s Morigaon district on Thursday, taking the death toll to 90 since the mills’ closure.
Patowary was suffering from cardiac ailments, said Manabendra Chakraborty, the president of Joint Action Committee of Recognized Unions (JACRU) of both Nagaon and Cachar Mills.
Reportedly, the deceased was suffering from heart disease but was unsuccessful at receiving treatment due to the non-payment of salary for the last 54 months, informed Chakraborty.
The union leader also claimed that Patowary’s son had died following a prolonged illness in 2019, and both father and son passed away as they could not afford treatment.
After the BJP returned to power in the northeastern state, this is the fifth death of an employee in the last one and a half months.
The two paper mills – Cachar Paper Mill and Panchgram in Hailakandi district and Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in Morigaon district – both units of Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited – have been in unworkable condition since October 2015 and March 2017 respectively.
Since then, 1200 employees have not been paid their salaries. Union officials estimate that over 4 lakh people are directly or indirectly affected by the closure of the mills which at one time were acclaimed as Asia’s largest.
After the BJP government assumed power in the state in 2016, it had promised to revive the paper mills. In recently concluded assembly polls, a similar promise was made during the election campaign.
However, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) conducted several rounds of meetings with all stakeholders, after which they ordered the liquidator on April 26 to sell the entire HPC in accordance with a decision of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
On June 1, advertisements seeking bids for the e-auction of the company were issued.
The reserve price for the bids was kept at Rs 1,139 crore and the last date of submission of bids was June 15. Nonetheless, there were no bidders till June 15. Subsequently, on June 22, a new auction notice for the sale of the two mills was issued by the liquidator at a reserve price of Rs 969 crore, Rs 170 crore lower than the previous price.
The last date of submission of bids is July 6 and the e-auction will be held on July 22.
Chakraborty alleged that this may be a conspiracy to sell the assets of the two paper mills at a throwaway price which is being done to protect the vested interests of a certain section.
He urged Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to save the two mills and clear all legitimate dues of the employees who have suffered immensely.
Opposition parties – Congress, AIUDF, Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) – have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the chief minister to intervene and ensure that the paper mills are not auctioned and instead steps taken to revitalize them.