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Nagaon Paper Mill in Jagiroad, Assam
Nagaon Paper Mill in Jagiroad, Assam|File image
DOCUMENTARY

SOS: Assam’s Nagaon Paper Mill is dying, so are its staff, kin

Several employees have died allegedly due to tension related to financial difficulties at the unit run by Hindustan Paper Corporation ever since it stopped production in 2017 

Mukut Medhi

Sangjukta Tamuli

Jagiroad: The Nagaon Paper Mill that once sustained the lives of many is now in dire straits. At stake are hundreds of workers and their families, who are dying a slow death, each passing day.

Their ordeal started on March 13, 2017 when the Hindustan Paper Corporation (HPC) decided to stop production at the Nagaon Paper Mill located in Jagiroad of Assam's Morigaon district. This was after the state-run enterprise shut down the Cachar Paper Mill, its other unit in the state, on October 20, 2015.

Instead of looking after its staffers, the HPC then stopped paying salaries, provident fund, pension or gratuity to them. Over the years, 51 workers died prematurely and while in service due to tension related to financial difficulties. Some died or lost a near and dear one because they didn’t have the money for medical treatment. Two employees also purportedly committed suicide during this period.

"I’ve been part of this mill since the time of its construction and will retire after a year. It has been two months since the death of my wife. I had applied for PF thinking that it will bear the medical expenses. I didn’t get any money. My wife passed away due to lack of medical treatment," said Dulal Dutta, an employee of the mill.

"I’ve three daughters, gave two of them away. I didn’t have the money to arrange for their marriage. Now, I stay with my youngest daughter. I haven’t received my salary for 27 months… can you even imagine my condition right now?" asked Dutta.

Lamati Pator, wife of Sarat Pator, another employee who passed away on April 9, said: "He was battling with cancer. What can we do? We haven’t even received our dues yet. The office gave some money. We had to sell off our lands for treatment. Do they even care for our existence? Even we are human beings. Don’t we deserve our money?"

Children of employees have been the worst sufferers. Many of them have had to abandon their education due to financial hardships. "My father provided his service for 30 long years. Yet, my mother has to cry for the money which she rightfully deserves. We didn’t even get money for his funeral service. All those were done on loan. PM [Narendra Modi] encourages education of girl child. My father provided me with an education. Based on this industry, I graduated in pulp and paper technology from Jagiroad College. Now my degree doesn’t even have significance. I am sitting idle today," said Rijumani Borthakur, daughter Late Rupendra Borthakur, who was also an employee of the paper mill.

Teachers, too, are at the receiving end. “I’ve been working here as an assistant teacher since 1988. I teach mathematics and science. We are working very hard to provide education to these kids. This school is under the Hindustan Paper Corporation. With the closing of the mill, even we stopped getting salaries,” said Mohd Saidul Rahman.

Manobendra Chakraborty, the chief convenor of the HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee, condemns the government’s policy to import paper from abroad instead of helping grow the country’s own industries. "There is nothing left for survival. Every day, some people are dying. The government is giving false assurances. It's time to give them a befitting reply to the government," he added.

Many believe that selling off the mill to a private entity is the only chance of revival of the dying paper industry. Surely, there will be a lot of presumptions, as the mill employees of Cachar and Nagaon stand united in a do-or-die battle.

But their questions must be answered. Until when is the government going to let the fate of the people hang in balance?