Monday, 30th October 2017

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Children of closed Assam paper mill workers beg on streets

The mill has been lying non-functional since October 2015

By Swapnaneel Bhattacharjee and Satananda Bhattacharjee in Silchar and Panchgram(Hailakandi)
  • Published 3.01.20, 3:51 AM
  • Updated 3.01.20, 3:51 AM
  • 2 mins read
  •  
A grab from the video Picture sourced by Satananda Bhattacharjee

A video of a girl narrating her struggle for survival and trying to make her voice reach Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal is doing the rounds on social media.

Umma Kulsuma, alias Khushi, a Class V student, is the daughter of Liakat Ali, an employee of Cachar Paper Mill at Panchgram in Hailakandi district. Ali, like other employees of the mill, has not received any salary for the past three years.

The mill has been lying non-functional since October 2015. The video, which has attracted the attention of a large number of people on social media, shows Khushi pleading to Modi and Sonowal to know their plight and how they are struggling to meet their educational needs.

Main pradhan mantri ko bolna chahti hoon ki aap toh bolte hain ‘Beti bachao beti padhao’. Agar betiyan hi nahi rahengi, woh padhengi kaise? (I want to tell the Prime Minister: ‘You speak about Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, but if there are no girls, how can they study?)” she said in the video which shows a few children carrying placards.

Khushi said they were going from shop to shop collecting donations for their education. “We want them to know what we are going through,” she said, pleading with Modi and Sonowal to “do something” to bring back smiles on the faces which have not smiled for years.

A BTech student, Sujit Kumar Tado, said at Panchgram in Hailakandi that he is selling eggs to collect his tuition fees. A VIII class student, Antariksh Roy, said their studies were severely affected.

On Thursday, the general secretary of the Cachar Paper Mill Officers’ and Supervisors’ Association, Dipak Chandra Nath, told this correspondent that a group of 25 to 30 children (children of the paper mill’s employees) came out on the streets at Panchgram on Wednesday and collected donations from local residents. The children, who were holding placards, apprised the citizens of their wretched plight in an attempt to make their condition known to the government. “Imagine the adverse impact of poverty and helplessness of their parents on these children. Uncertain present, uncertain future… everything is in a mess,” Nath said.

“Children are coming out on the streets and collecting money for their education/survival. Nothing could have been worse than this,” he rued and appealed that the government must treat the issue (non-payment of salaries) on a priority basis and initiate necessary steps. President of the Cachar Paper Project Workers’ Union, Manabendra Chakraborty, said, “The government, which once promised acche din, is torturing people unimaginably and killing them.” At least 60 workers have died, including three who committed suicide, since the two mills in the state stopped functioning, he added.

Chakraborty hoped the National Human Rights Commission — which has issued an order (in connection with a petition filed by him over payment issues) asking the secretary of the ministry of heavy industries to submit its report on or before January 16 or appear in person on January 23 — would rescue them from this “precarious situation”.

The other factory is the Nagaon Paper Mill, which has remained closed since March 2017. Its workers have not received salaries for the past 34 months. The Hindustan Paper Corporation’s (HPC) liquidator had on December 23 issued an order that all HPC quarters have to be vacated by January 31. The workers’ unions, however, said they would not comply with the order until all their dues are cleared.

At present 450 off the 888 staff quarters are occupied.

The general secretary of Cachar Paper Project

Workers and Employees Union (Independent), Azizur Rahman Mazumder told The Telegraph on Thursday that they would not vacate the quarters till their dues are cleared. Mazumder said even those who had retired had not been paid their monetary benefits.

The president of Kagaj Nigam Karmi Union of Nagaon Paper Mill, Dhiren Bora, said they are facing “extreme economic crisis” and their children failed to take admission in new classes.

He said they are aware that their children were now begging on the streets.