The Assam government will acquire the assets of the two closed mills of Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd, and provide a relief package of Rs 570 crore to its employees, as per an agreement reached in the early hours of Wednesday.
The discussion between the government and the unions of the two paper mills continued for over four hours at the office of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, following which the agreement was signed.
"Finally reached an agreement with the workers and employees of Hindustan Paper Corporation to resolve long pending issues of their salaries and dues. Discussion lasted for over four hours in my office and concluded at 2 a.m," Sarma tweeted.
Cachar Paper Mill at Panchgram in Hailakandi district is non-functional since October 2015, while Nagaon Paper Mill at Jagiroad in Morigaon district is shut since March 2017.
Since the closure of the two mills, 95 employees died, including four allegedly taking their own lives, primarily due to lack of proper treatment as they did not receive salaries or dues for the last 55 months, according to the unions.
The agreement was signed by Sarma and Industries Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, and representatives of the employees' associations.
As per the agreement, the Assam government will approach the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) through the official liquidator for taking over all the assets of the mills and the employees' organisations will ensure that the houses, premises, buildings and other assets are smoothly handed over without any hindrances and is not disputed in the court of law.
The relief amount of Rs 570 crore will be given to the employees only after they vacate the property. However, on humanitarian grounds, an extension of one month may be given to vacate the quarters.
The state government will make efforts to disburse the relief package, include employment, within two months from the date of approval by NCLT, as per the agreement.
The state government will provide employment to 100 officers and workers according to their qualifications and equivalent to the pay scale in the state government through a special recruitment drive, which will not take into consideration their upper age limit. They will be provided with the due PF, gratuity and pension, but not the unpaid salary.
The government will also facilitate the employees who could not complete their services due to the closure of the mills to get employment on a priority basis in the industries on the land of the paper mills in the future.
The agreement took into consideration the unpaid provident fund (PF) contributions, gratuity, pension claims, salaries and other dues from the date of non-payment to the date of commencement of the liquidation process.
The state government will also provide a gratuitous relief to the cooperative contractual workers to ensure that they get minimum subsistence, while LIC premium and home loan EMIs deducted from salary would be paid by the government, following admission by the liquidator.
The state government will also take up with the Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) Sangathan to convert the KVs located in the mill compounds from project to civil sector, and help the wards of mill employees in these schools to get admission in any other KVs of their choice.
All employees who have already attained the age of 58 would be provided pensions through respective PF commissioners at Guwahati and Kolkata, which was deducted from their salaries but not deposited, as per the agreement.
The state government will also provide permanent government jobs to doctors, ANMs and other paramedical staff of the mills' health establishments at the entry-level, while teachers of schools in the mill compounds will be provided a relief to the extent of 24 months of salary, PF, gratuity and the pension, which was deducted from their salaries.
"We are grateful that the precarious condition of the employees touched the heart of the chief minister and he decided to take the initiative to resolve the various issues and we are sure that the clauses of the agreement will be followed and implemented within the stipulated period," said the Joint Action Committee of Recognised Unions (JACRU) of the two mills.
The BJP government had promised to revive the paper mills after Sarbananda Sonowal assumed power in 2016, and even during the campaigning for this year's assembly polls, the party had assured that steps will be taken regarding this.
The NCLT, after several rounds of meetings between all stakeholders and a number of hearings, had ordered the liquidator on April 26 to sell Hindustan Paper Corporation as per the decision of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT).
Accordingly, liquidator Kuldeep Verma on June 1 had issued advertisements, seeking bids for the e-auction of the company at a reserve price of Rs 1,139 but there were no bidders till the last date on June 15.
Subsequently, on June 22, a new auction notice for the sale of the two mills was issued by the liquidator at a reserve price of Rs 969 crore, Rs 170 lower than the previous price.
The liquidator had also issued notices to 900 employees on September, 3 asking them to "vacate the accommodation/quarters occupied within 15 days by handing vacant, physical and peaceful possession to the liquidator failing which legal action will be taken for getting back vacant possession of the accommodation/quarters".The notice, which was later temporarily stayed, was issued individually to all the occupants and also sent to all employees' associations/ workers' unions of the defunct paper mills.