By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, July 21: Leader of the Opposition of the Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia has urged State Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal not to wait for Central funds for the revival of the two HPC papers mills of the State, and instead pump in Rs 200 core for each of the two mills on its own from Dispur.
In a missive sent to the Chief Minister on Friday, Saikia said: “The easier, but unwise, option will be to wait for the Central Government to send funds for reviving the two paper mills. The second option will be to acknowledge that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ and urgently release funds from Dispur. Since the Fince Minister of the State has publicly asserted that the fincial health of Assam is sound at present, lack of funds should not be used as an excuse for iction.”
On the Chief Minister taking up the matter of revival of the two HPC paper mills in the State with the Prime Minister, Saikia said: “The employees of these two mills have not received salaries for several months and the plight of their families can only be imagined. While any assurance from the Central Government is bound to be welcomed by all, the sad reality is that mere promises can neither keep the home fires burning in the employees’ kitchens, nor prevent valuable machinery from rusting in the mills. It has been over a year since no less a person than the Prime Minister of India had given assurances at election rallies in Assam about his resolve to revive the two paper mills. The incumbent State Industry Minister of Assam Chandra Mohan Patowary also promised Rs.800-crore package for revival of the NPM and the CPM. What transpired since then is periodic assurances, but no actual action on the ground. Yet, all the while, a proposal for a Rs.1347-crore revival and uplift package has been gathering dust in the NITI Aayog.”
Saikia said: “Both of the paper mills were profit-making units not too long ago. In fact, they contributed Rs.786 crore to the Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited’s (HPC) total turnover of Rs.1101 crore in 2006-2007. Moreover, their use of unmixed bamboo as the raw material ensured a high-quality product which was promptly bought by institutions such as CBSE, NCERT and the textbook corporations of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and Bengal. Indeed, their products were even exported to Egypt and Bangladesh. This apart, both of the paper mills combined used to buy bamboo worth Rs. 200-240 crore from local growers and traders in the Karbi Anglong and Dima-Hasao autonomous council areas, along with other parts of Assam, Mizoram and Meghalaya. It is probably known to you as to how several factors combined to bring the NPM and the CPM to their knees. A lengthy period of gregarious flowering of bamboo coincided with a ban on the movement of bamboo from Mizoram and coal from Meghalaya to deliver a major blow to the productivity of the two mills. To make matters worse, the caustic and chlorine (C&C) plant had to be shut down in conformity with anti-pollution norms. This last development, however, merely meant a rise in production costs. Significantly, the prices of all segments of writing and printing paper have witnessed an increase in the state since the NPM and the CPM stopped production.”
Saikia said there is no doubt that it is encouraging to hear that the HPC is going to shift its headquarters from Kolkata to Guwahati, and that the Central Government is going to bail out the two beleaguered paper mills of Assam. “Nevertheless, the moot question remains: when will these things happen, will they happen soon or in the next fiscal year? If the entire process turns out to be a protracted one, then will it not be sheer callousness to leave the mills’ employees and their families to fend for themselves for an indefinite period? In my humble opinion, the State Government ought not to delay action any longer by waiting for funds from the Centre. I consequently exhort you to rise to the challenge facing you and sanction funds from the state’s own coffers. I learnt during my interactions with employees of the two mills that an amount of Rs.400 crore (Rs.200 crore for each mill) would ensure not only resumption of production, but also payment of arrear salaries. Once production resumes, the HPC would be able to raise advance payments from their erstwhile regular customers and it will be back on the rails.”