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HPC mill revival panel launches stir with highway blockade

Traffic movement along NH 37, NH 6 crippled for hours

GUWAHATI: A committee formed to demand revival of the Nagaon and Cachar paper mills of Hindustan Paper Corporation (HPC) kicked off the first of its series of agitation by staging a four-hour blockade on National Highway 6 and National Highway 37 on Wednesday.

About 6,000 supporters of the HPC Paper Mills Revival Action Committee, a conglomeration of organisations and political parties, staged the blockade from 9am at Doleswari point on NH 37 (which connects the three Barak districts of Assam with Tripura, Manipur and Mizoram) and at Kalain on NH 6 (which connects Guwahati via Meghalaya).

Traffic movement along the vital routes linked to the protest sites were affected for about three hours till police picked up majority of the protesters by noon.

“The highway blockade was the first among the series of protests lined up in the coming months. We will call a Barak and Brahmaputra Valley bandh, rail roko agitation and a dharna at the residence of the Assam chief minister if our demand for immediate revival of the two defunct mills is met. The dates of the protests will be announced shortly,” Manabendra Chakraborty, the chief convenor of the newly-formed committee, told The Shillong Times.

Production in Cachar Paper Mill at Panchgram has been suspended since October 20, 2015 while operations at Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad came to a halt on March 13, 2017.

“We suspect that the suspension of operations of the mills has been affected to pave way for private companies to take over operations of these mills. As it is, the cost of paper per metric tonne has increased more than two fold,” Chakraborty said.

The mills have absorbed over 3000 people directly and over 2lakh people indirectly.

“The salaries of employees of both paper mills are pending since the past 20 months and as the Central government is the principal employer we demand upon the state government to take up the matter immediately. Already, 37 employees of the mills have died owing to starvation and poor health,” he rued.

The revival package, which according to reports is about Rs 1800 crore, is pending at the Prime Minister’s Office despite clearances from the ministries of heavy industry and finance, the committee claimed.

“As of now, the closure of operations is costing the economy of the state and region very dearly. Many youths have lost jobs and been forced to go outside Northeast and work at lower salaries,” he said.

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