If all goes well, the Centre will soon revive the North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy (NEIIPP) albeit in amended form, shift the headquarters of Hindustan Paper Corporation to Assam and help blow new life into the two HPCL paper mills at Jagiroad and Panchagram. At least these are the fond hopes State Industries and Commerce minister Chandra Mohan Patowary is nursing, having met Union Heavy Industries minister Ant Geete in New Delhi recently. To turn hope into reality, however, the Assam government needs to be hard-headed, and pursue its interests fearlessly and aggressively. It has rightly pressed upon the Centre that the HPCL headquarters be shifted here. After all, Assam and the entire Northeast is blessed with bamboo and timber, coal and lime which are the raw materials of paper industry. This was the reason the Centre began commercial paper production at Jagiroad in gaon and Panchagram in Cachar districts back in the Eighties under the HPCL, a Government of India enterprise. A subsidiary unit of HPCL was also set up at Tuli in galand. The gaon Paper Mill (NPM) and the Cachar Paper Mill (CPM) started out with much promise, working at full capacity, bagging excellence awards and registering handsome profits. HPCL even began exporting paper to some neighboring countries. And then what happened? Three decades after, these paper mills are dead, their workers in limbo.
It is that oft-repeated story of utter lack of foresight, callousness and neglect, rampant graft and mismagement that have rung the death knell of many an industry in the Northeast. Machinery in the HPCL paper mills grew old and outdated, problems cropped up in sourcing bamboo supplies from Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, coal supply from Meghalaya was hit after the tiol Green Tribul banned open cast mining there in 2012-13, while the paper market and its pricing underwent extensive changes. But as the HPCL top bosses sat in their Kolkata head office and fiddled away, all sorts of corrupt practices grew entrenched in procurement and other operations. It was painful to see the perennial mountain of bamboo stocked in Jagiroad paper mill rotting to dust. What kind of inventory policy allows bamboo, which should be used up within 6 months, to remain dumped uselessly for years altogether? For over a decade, HPCL authority has been mulling over proposals for modernization and technical upgradation, but hardly anything has materialized. Shifting HPCL head offices to a source region like the Northeast may therefore make it more responsive to production aspects, particularly with the Centre going all out for better transport linkages with the region. But will the Bengal government allow HPCL to shift over here? After the Trimool’s vociferous campaign in Parliament against any move to shift Tea Board head office to Assam, the Assam government will need to brace for a tough battle. It is all very well for Assam Assembly to pass resolutions demanding such a shift, but the case has to be put up forcefully in Parliament by MPs from the State.