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Future of the paper mills

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It is high time the Assam government headed by Sarbananda Sonowal took a strong stand on the fate of the two paper mills at Jagiroad and Panchgram. While the Centre has almost washed off its hands and pushed the several hundred employees of Hindustan Paper Corporation into uncertainty, failure of the State Government to make its stand clear on the issue has already sent wrong signals. There have been instances when Assam Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowari had not only declared that the two mills would be revived, but had also stated that the head office of the public sector Hindustan Paper Corporation was being shifted to Guwahati. Then Union Heavy Industries Minister Babul Supriyo, on the other hand, had made a public announcement during his visit to Silchar during the Namami Barak Festival two years ago that the Jagiroad and Panchgram paper mills were in the process of revival. Failure of the Assam government to convince the Centre on reviving the two giant paper mills of the country can have far-reaching effects, especially when the State Assembly elections will draw closer two years from now. One must keep in mind the fact that closure of the two paper mills not only impacts upon their employees and families. The economic activities centering round the two mills are not only important for Jagiroad and Panchgram, but for the entire state because there is a spin-off effect of the health of the two mills on the economy of Assam. What is surprising is that while the two public sector paper mills are on the verge of closure, a private sector paper mill is fast coming up in an industrial park in Goalpara. The question that emanates from this is that while the government considers that the PSU paper mills in Jagiroad and Panchgram are unviable, how come the upcoming private sector paper mill in Goalpara is viable. More importantly, while there is no dearth of raw materials for running two giant paper mills in the Northeastern region, states like Mizoram and Nagaland will be soon facing problems over their inability to evacuate huge quantities of bamboo growing wild or in community farms. Bamboo, the most important raw material for running paper mills, is a highly perishable commodity, and leaving it unharvested is also detrimental to the forests of the hilly regions of the Northeast. Mizoram particularly would be facing severe economic problems due to non-evacuation of bamboo from its forests, which in turn might lead to social problems. Bamboo being a community produce in the hill states, the indigenous tribal communities of the region would face serious socio-economic problems. Pushing several thousand people who are directly and indirectly involved with the two paper mills in Jagiroad and Panchgram too will have its negative impact on the society in Assam. It is here that the Assam government headed by Sarbananda Sonowal has to rise to the occasion and play a very crucial and responsible role. The forthcoming session of the Assam Legislative Assembly should also urgenly take up the matter, and legislators cutting across party lines should join hands in the larger interest of the state. The MPs of Assam and Mizoram too have an important role to play in Parliament. Other pressure groups including the students’ unions too should urgently take up the matter and create public opinion so that the BJP-led government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reminded of its commitments towards speedy and all-round socio-economic development of the Northeastern Region. If the Centre does not act positively in reviving the two paper mills, then its stress on the much-touted Act East policy too gets reduced to a mockery. Shutting down the two paper mills will also send wrong signals in regard to other public sector industries in Assam. The Brahmaputra Valley Fertilizer Corporation plants at Namrup, for instance, is also gradually beginning to feel apprehensions of meeting a similar fate as that of the two paper mills.