Court boost to mill workers’ protest
Delhi High Court’s recent directive to keep in abeyance the order of Hindustan Paper Corporation’s liquidator to vacate the HPC’s quarters has given fresh impetus to the unions of the two paper mills in Assam, which have been crusading vigorously for the rights of the mills’ employees for years.
The HPC liquidator had ordered on December 23, 2019 that all the HPC quarters have to be vacated by January 31.
This set the ball rolling for the HPC’s liquidation process as ordered by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) on May 2, 2019.
Delhi High Court, during a hearing on January 28 in connection with a writ petition filed by the Cachar Paper Project Workers’ Union, directed that the HPC liquidator’s order be kept in abeyance till its next hearing on February 25. This brought relief to thousands of employees of the two mills and their families, who were living in anxiety.
The two mills, Cachar Paper Mill at Panchgram in Hailakandi district of Barak Valley and Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in Morigaon district, both units of HPC, have been non-functional since October 2015 and March 2017 and their employees have not got salaries for the past 36 and 34 months respectively.
According to the mill’s unions, at least 60 employees have died, including three suicides, since the mills ceased functioning, mostly because of poverty, trauma and lack of medical treatment.
Manabendra Chakraborty, president of the Cachar Paper Project Workers’ Union, said the high court’s decision has brought a “ray of hope” and they are optimistic that “justice will be delivered” to the mills’ employees, who have been suffering unimaginably for years.
He said they would continue to fight legally and politically for their demands regarding the mills’ revival and remittance of the employees’ dues.
“We have full confidence in the judiciary,” he said.
He said they had appealed to different political parties and organisations and that Mahila Congress president Sushmita Dev has extended her wholehearted support and former chief minister and AGP leader Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has taken up the matter in the Assembly.
Coming down heavily on the BJP leaders of Barak Valley, Chakraborty said neither any MP nor any MLA had bothered to learn about the plight of the employees of Cachar Paper Mill, the only industry in the valley.
“They speak about Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, but are completely indifferent to the mill’s employees. They are shameless,” he said.
Dipak Chandra Nath, general secretary of the Cachar Paper Mill Officers’ and Supervisors’ Association, said the high court’s directive was the “first achievement” for the mills’ unions and that he was sanguine that the judicial system would rescue them from the “troubled waters”.
“It is a good sign that all the unions have put up a united fight,” he added.
He said they had filed a petition with Gauhati High Court seeking clearance of the Rs 90 crore sanctioned in Parliament in 2018 for payment of the employees’ salaries.
The next hearing is on Thursday.
“Hopefully, the court hearing will bring good news for us,” he said.
Supriyo Bhattacharjee, a convener of the Kagaj Kal Banchao Joutha Mancha, said they would stage a protest in front of Khudiram statue here on February 7 over the paper mills’ issue. Various trade unions and civil society organisations will participate in the movement, he added.