Wednesday, October 5, 2022

End of a dream

Workers Union and Pensioners Union, Nagaland Pulp & Paper Co, Ltd (NPPCL) Tuli under the aegis of Joint Action Committee (JAC) have agreed to ‘postpone’ their indefinite blockade on NH 61 starting August 12, 2022 till the workers were paid their pending salaries/wages with effect from August 2017 till date. The mill workers have been left to fend for themselves for decades by the negligent erstwhile Hindustan Paper Corporation Ltd. and by extension the centre and even the state government. The paper mill was a gift from the government of India after ceasefire was declared with the Naga political group (NNC/FGN) in 1964, and as a commitment to ensure rapid industrial development to wean people of Nagaland away from violence. The project was then incorporated as Nagaland Pulp and Paper Company (NPPC) Limited in 1971. This was first and only large and medium unit in the State of Nagaland and the first paper mill in the central public sector in the North Eastern region. It generated great hope and enthusiasm among the people of Nagaland. NPPC is a joint venture where the Government of India holds 95% share and state government holds 5% share. NPCC started commercial production from July 1982. However, due to lack of power supply and problems from outdated second-hand boilers, the mill went on incurring loss and finally limped to a halt from October, 1992.Not only workers and suppliers but also thousands of people in Tuli who had grown bamboo over hundreds of acres of land were left in the lurch. The local people donated 700 acres of land for the mill and housing colonies in Tuli area of Nagaland. Around 126 sq. kilometers of bamboo forest land was purchased for captive plantation and was leased to NPCC. Water from river Melak was harnessed for water supply to the Mill. In anticipation of demand from the mill, large scale bamboo plantation took place in private lands. It may be recalled that after decades of negotiations to revive the sick mill by the state government and the former MPs, the UPA-I government finally agreed to revive the sick (or dead) mill through a package in 2007. Then Union Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh announced a Rs.600 crore revival package for the sick NPPC Ltd Tuli during his visit to Mokokchung town as part of the town’s Golden Jubilee Celebration on December 1, 2007. This was the best ever Christmas gift to Nagaland and it seemed that the mill will begin to churn out thousand metric tons of high-quality paper that its imported machines could produce. However, when the process for revival of the mill began, the employees started the move for payment of arrears which was not in consonance with the BIRF stipulation that those laid off can only be given arrears if it was stipulated in the reconstruction and also if only any revival package included payment of such arrears. According to NPPC, the employees were asked to accept pay structure as on 1997, which was refused. The mill was also overstaffed with over three hundred employees who turned the mill into a white elephant. Any money pumped towards the functioning of the mill appeared to be following the law of diminishing returns, in economic parlance. The last payment was made in 2017 from the revival package. The only way out is for the state government to take the call on taking a clear, transparent and acceptable decision through consultations with experts.

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