MANASH PRATIM DUTTA
JAGIROAD, Jan 3 - “It was around 11 am on March 13, 2017 when one of our senior officials came and asked us to stop the machine. Our plight began from that day,” recalled Rudra Saikia, a technical staff of the Nagaon Paper Mill located at Jagiroad.
Rudra Saikia is among hundreds of employees of the Nagaon Paper Mill under Hindustan Paper Corporation whose job uncertainty has increased with a recent notice where the higher authority has asked them to vacate their official quarters within January 31 next.
According to Ram Lal Deka, an Office Assistant of the mill and a resident of Nagaon Paper Mill township, at present around 500 families reside in the official quarters and all of them have been suffering from acute financial crisis as they have not received their salaries since the past three years.
“It is for certain that unless we get all our dues, we will not vacate our official quarters. If required, we will face any kind of torture from the government machinery,” Deka rued.
After getting the notice, the leadership of the employees’ union suspected that the government was conspiring to hand over the land to the corporate sector.
According to them, the entire Nagaon Paper Mill is located over a plot of around 570 acres. Earlier, the land was under the jurisdiction of tribal belt and during the establishment of the industry, the government had procured the land from a large section of tribal people at a very low cost.
“The notice to vacate the quarters is the first step towards selling of the land. The land, located beside the national highway has very high market price. But it is clear that we will not accept such a move,” the leadership of the employees’ union said.
Meanwhile, talking to The Assam Tribune, a senior management official of the mill said that lack of farsightedness along with negligence and vested interest of senior officials were the main reasons behind the present condition of the entity.
“The mill had faced loss due to various reasons. Primarily, successive governments over the years had appointed many inefficient officials in high-ranking posts. Those officials did not take effective steps to save the mill, rather they were conspiring to close it down,” the official said.
According to him, closure of the in-house chlorine production plant was the main reason behind the economic hurdle faced by the mill.
“The plant needed mercury as catalyst to produce chlorine and other chemicals from the salt. It faced challenge when the state government imposed a ban on transportation of mercury. But the Pollution Control Board of Assam issued a special licence for the plant to transport mercury and asked it to change the machinery immediately. Unfortunately, the top level officials did not take necessary steps in this regard and ultimately the plant has been closed down. Moreover, due to unknown reasons, the senior officials used to import bamboo and coal from outside the state at higher prices. It also resulted in unnecessary running cost escalation,” he asserted.
The present defunct condition of the industry has also largely affected two schools, one lower primary school and one high school, and one hospital run by the Nagaon Paper Mill authority.
According to a source, at present the lower primary school has four teachers against 70 students and the high school has 10 teachers against 150 students.
These teachers, it may be mentioned, had been running the schools without any salary since 2017. But now, with the quarter vacation notice, the future of both the schools is uncertain.
Moreover, the condition of the one and only hospital, available for all staff residing in the township, is more critical and may close down permanently if the staff vacate their quarters in the coming days.
Explaining the present condition, SK Dey, a doctor of the hospital said, “It was a 30-bed full-fledged hospital with emergency X-ray and ECG facilities. However, its condition at present has become almost non-functional because of the non-supply of instruments and medicines since one year.
Again, salaries of all the staff have also remained pending since March 2017. Earlier, we had six doctors and 30 other staff. But during the past three years, altogether four doctors and 18 staff resigned due to non-payment of salary.”