In what can be construed as a shocking example of double-speak, the failure or the unwillingness of the Centre to come up with a holistic plan for revival of the two paper mills of Hindustan Paper Corporation comes as a big blow to the State’s fledgling industrialization process. The liquidator of HPC in its application before the National Company Law Tribunal seeking permission to proceed with the liquidation of corporation assets has mentioned that the Centre had no alternative viable scheme for revival of the two mills. With the NCLT scheduled to hear the case on March 5, the fate of the two once-flourishing paper mills is sealed. The Assam Government, too, had done little worthwhile in the matter, happily toeing the lines of its masters in Delhi. One can also recall that an announcement for a Rs 1,900-crore revival package was made by the Centre four years back but it never materialized for reasons best known to the Government. Apparently, there is much more than meets the eyes in the entire development which is strongly indicative of some clandestine motive in shutting down the paper mills. Around the same time, the Centre had released Rs 469 crore for the revival of a paper mill in Madhya Pradesh but the files for the two Assam mills gathered dust in the Prime Minister’s Office. This is regrettable to say the least, more so given Assam’s status as an industrially backward State where the two mills provided livelihood to thousands of employees. In another disturbing revelation, it has now come to light that the paper mill management had failed to remit to the EPFO a PF fund amount of Rs 107 crore deducted from the wages of the workmen. A thorough inquiry is needed to get the roots of all this and fix accountability for what is eminently a case of misappropriation of funds – that too at a time when the workmen have not got their salaries and other dues for years.
It is ironical that both the State Government and the Centre should be indulging ad nauseum in their rhetoric of industrialization while remaining blind to the prospects of reviving the State’s two major industrial units. It is inexplicable why the mills – once household names due to their flourishing business – cannot be revived. There is abundance of raw materials, with the Northeast accounting for a major share of the country’s bamboo production. Had the Government been sincere, it could have evolved a broad roadmap with thrust on addressing the lapses that had paved the way for the mills’ closure. An unholy nexus between the then paper mill management and contractors was apparently responsible for the constraints in the supply chain but this could not have been an insurmountable roadblock. Indeed, given that the Northeast has the country’s biggest bamboo reserves that remain largely unutilized, the closure of the mills reflects poorly on the authorities.