SILCHAR: The Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU) of the two paper mills in Assam has sought the Centre’s intervention and demanded that all the pending dues of the industrial units’ employees be cleared. The demand comes in the wake of the death of another employee of the Cachar Paper Mill on Friday, taking the toll to 111 employee deaths since the abrupt shutting down of the two HPCL mills six years ago.

Rajib Deb (56), who worked at the mechanical department of Cachar Paper Mill and was a resident of Tarapur in Silchar, passed away at the Silchar Medical College and Hospital (SMCH) around 1 am on Friday after prolonged illness.

Rajib Deb

Deb is survived by his wife and a son. According to the paper mills’ unions, at least 111 employees (including Rajib Deb) have died, mostly because of poverty, trauma and lack of medical treatment, since the industries ceased functioning.

Talking to EastMojo on Saturday, JACRU president Manabendra Chakraborty said the deceased person (Rajib Deb) was suffering from neurological diseases, had a cerebral stroke and was under treatment at the SMCH. Despite his ailments, Deb could not afford timely treatment because of non-payment of salaries.

“As a result, his health worsened with time and he died a helpless, tragic death,” Chakraborty lamented, adding that 111 employees have died after the mills became non-functional and blamed the BJP government for their plight.

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The two mills – Cachar Paper Mill at Panchgram in Hailakandi district and the Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in Morigaon district – have been lying non-functional since October, 2015 and March, 2017, respectively. 

“Many top leaders of the BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, served us platters of promises that the mills would be revived and the employees’ dues paid. But nothing has happened till date.”

Chakraborty spoke about the relief package provided by the Assam government after Himanta Biswa Sarma became the chief minister and said the relief package brought “some relief” to the mills’ employees.

“But it cannot alleviate the woes and miseries experienced by the employees for non-payment of their salaries over the years… Their condition has been terrible over the years dealing with constant stress, fear and anxiety. The relief package brought a ray of hope for the traumatised employees, but it is not a permanent solution,” he said.

The JACRU president, however, clarified that the relief package, which was disbursed earlier this year, has no connection with the salaries of the mills’ employees.

Despite the Cachar Paper Mill becoming non-functional in 2015 and the Nagaon Paper Mill in 2017, the employees had to go to the mills every day. Chakraborty said the mills were “never declared closed”, but production was suspended in the industrial units.

“We were told (after the mills ceased functioning) that the industries will be made functional soon, but this never happened. Also, we had to go to the mills for maintenance and related works,” Chakraborty said.

The general secretary of the Cachar Paper Mill Officers and Supervisors’ Association Dipak Chandra Nath said the two mills’ employees were reeling under debts (because of non-payment of salaries for years) and thus the relief package provided by the state government did not assuage their miseries. He stressed that the remaining dues of the mills’ employees be paid soon.

A petition was filed by the Cachar Paper Project Workers’ Union at the Delhi high court in 2020 regarding the clearance of 72 months’ salaries of the mills’ employees by the government.

“The case is still pending et. We are hopeful that the judicial system will help us in getting our rights,” he said.

Azizur Rahman Mazumder, general secretary, Cachar Paper Project Workers and Employees’ Union also appealed to the government to treat the matter (of the condition of the mills’ employees) with importance and initiate appropriate steps so that all the dues are cleared soon. He hoped the mills’ issue, which got attention after Himanta Biswa Sarma became the chief minister of Assam and a relief package was provided, would be resolved permanently.

“The relief package is nowhere related to the employees’ salaries. Our demand is that the Centre should intervene in the matter and remit all the dues, including salaries of 72 months, provident fund and retirement benefits of the employees,” the JACRU president said.

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