Guwahati, July 1: The Assam government will encourage corporate groups to use the infrastructure of two ailing paper mills of HPCL in the state to operate "if not a paper mill, then some other industries", Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
Though the state government has "no direct role" in reviving the Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd plants, it has been providing support in the form of free electricity, health and education for children of employees affected by the closure of the two paper mills, Sarma told PTI in an interview.
"The matter is now with the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) and they have a certain system to deal with it. The role of the state government is very, very limited," he said. Sarma also said the state has taken several measures on humanitarian grounds.
"Our electricity dues for providing free power to the employees have gone up to Rs 100 crore," the CM said. The BJP-led state government had promised revival of the two plants since former Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal assumed power in 2016, and the party made a similar pledge in the just-concluded assembly polls. Opposition parties, including the Congress, the AIUDF and the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), have also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister to ensure that the paper mills are not auctioned.
"The Assam government does not have a huge budget ....where is the money to run a paper mill?" Sarma asked. He also pointed out that the machines in the two paper mills are not in working condition and the "units have no viability or else the HPCL would have run it". Altogether, 91 employees have died since the closure of the PSU's two units in the state, and four of them ended their lives, a union leader had claimed. Asked about the clearance of dues of the employees, the Chief Minister said that "once there is a good buyer" in accordance with the NCLT Act, "their (employees) provident fund and gratuity will be paid first".
"There is also a mechanism where they are entitled to get salaries of 18 months," Sarma added. HPCL's Cachar unit in Panchgram stopped operations on October 20, 2015, while the Nagaon mill in Jagiroad did so on March 31, 2017. No salary was paid to the staff of Cachar and Nagaon units for the last 54 months. Representatives of the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU) of both the Nagaon and Cachar mills had recently met the chief minister and urged him to help revive the two units and clear dues of the employees. In June 2018, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) directed initiation of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Proceedings under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016 against HPCL, which had earlier submitted a Rs 1,995- crore revival proposal to the government.
However, after several rounds of meetings among all stakeholders and a number of hearings, the NCLT on April 26 this year ordered the liquidator to sell HPCL. Accordingly, HPCL liquidator had on June 1 issued advertisements in newspapers of different languages seeking bids for e-auction of the two units. Days after prospective bidders showed no interest in buying the two defunct mills, the liquidator had invited fresh bids on June 22 after bringing down the reserve price to Rs 969 crore.
Previously, the reserve price for bids was fixed at Rs 1,139 crore. Analysts feel that there may be some interest since the reserve price has been lowered. The last date for receiving bids is July 6 and the e-auction is slated to be held on July 22. The union leaders have claimed that they believe there is a "conspiracy to sell assets of the two paper mills at a throwaway price".