Workers say they were abandoned as ‘parentless orphans’
Dimapur | 22nd of July
On the night of September 31, 1992, T Mar, an assistant operator of one of the headbox paper machines at the Tuli paper mill, recalled that he had been informed by management that the mill would temporarily halt production for “maintenance” work. He was part of the “B” team which started his shift from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
However, at the end of October, several national newspapers began to publish reports that the mill had completely ceased paper production.
“From then on, most people were informed that the factory ceased operations from October 1992,” he said.
The joint venture went astray
The Tuli Paper Mill or Nagaland Pulp & Paper Company Limited (NPPCL) was a joint venture between Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL), a now defunct Government of India (GoI) enterprise, and the Government of Nagaland. It was first conceptualized in 1971 for the socio-economic upliftment of the people of Nagaland.
After only about ten years from 1982 to 1992, the factory had stopped paper production for various reasons, and it was then referred to the BIFR (Bureau de Reconstruction Industrielle et Financière) in 1992.
Since then, several futile attempts have been made to revive the plant beginning with BIFR’s approval to restructure the plant by infusing Rs 552.44 crore in May 2007. This was followed by the Union Ministry of heavy industries and public enterprises releasing Rs 54.50 crore as the first phase of stimulus amount in September 2007, and out of this amount, an amount of Rs 36.76 crore was spent by the HPCL/NPPCL from 2007 to 2009.
Most recently, MP Tuli Amenba Yaden raised the issue during the Budget Session of the 11th Nagaland Legislative Assembly in March 2022. He said that another Revised Detailed Project Report (DPR) had been submitted to the Committee of Cabinet in Charge of Economic Affairs (CCEA) in March 2009. for granting an amount of Rs 679 crore. The ministry then handed over Rs 100 crore to the Chief Executive Officer (CMD) of HPCL in September 2013, but out of this, an amount of Rs 60 crore was diverted to “other chiefs” for their vested interests, which resulted in a total halt to NPPCL’s rehabilitation program, Yaden told the House at the time.
In support of this, Mar confirmed that there were several plans and efforts made for the revival of the NPPCL over the years but nothing came of them till today.
“We are like orphans without a parent. HPCL has been liquidated and the state government is at its wit’s end, everything seems so hopeless,” he lamented.
Mar retired on June 30 of this year. “Because I am old and unable to do other manual work, the money my children send us from time to time is what sustains us today,” he shared, adding that several other workers survived by taking up manual labor, or doing odd jobs as electricians and repairmen.
Like Mar, many NPPCL workers have not received their salaries from August 2017 to present, while retired employees and employees who died in harness have not received their terminal/retirement/retirement contributions at from September 2015.
As a result, a Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprised of members of NPPCL workers’ and retirees’ unions, has planned a protest along NH-61 in Tzudikong on August 12, 2022.
No possibility of legal recourse
For Noklenlemba, who lives in the city of Tuli, before the closure he was employed as an assistant in the accounting department. He revealed that his retirement took effect in 2018 without receiving any retirement compensation or salary for his working period. “I have three children who are all married, so they take care of us with the help of my relatives,” he explained.
Prior to HPCL’s liquidation, Longkumer recalled that he and his colleagues had hoped the paper mill would be revived. However, as things stand, that was unlikely to happen, he lamented.
When asked why they hadn’t taken legal action, he said the unpredictable nature of the outcome and the possibility of the case dragging on had deterred them from making such a decision.
“Who knows, the court would take another 10 to 15 years to render the verdict, which would then be too late. Also, if it had been made ‘submissive’ it would have been a blow to our cause as well,” he added.
Subjudice in legal terms means that if a case is brought to court, the same case cannot be brought to another court by the same parties (Article 10 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
NPPCL workers allege that debts for payment of wages as well as contributions for retired and deceased employees as assessed up to December 2021 amounted to a sum of Rs 27, 33, 89,777.
He also said that the union had approached various government entities through open letters in the past, including CBI, Vigilance Commission, New Delhi, without any response.
Survive on government subsidies
Another worker, Talingangshi Jamir, a 38-year-old mechanic, said that with him, some of the workers engaged in the water and electricity supply of Tzudikong town, continue to perform their duties regularly, even without any remuneration. .
“The Mokokchung DC had previously promised to remedy our injustices, but nothing came out of it until today,” he said, referring to a protest organized in 2017.
He pointed out that the struggle is immense for them because they only subsist on government rations.
“We survived only on government rations and by borrowing money from relatives and neighbors,” said Tuli resident Chubaangshi Longkumer, a father of four. He was employed as a paper attendant at the factory.
“We understand that even the Naga public is fed up with this issue as it has dragged on for too long without seeing any positive results,” he noted.
Longkumer also lamented that many workers died without even being able to access proper health facilities due to lack of money.
“No one in government is there to listen to our grievances.”
Despite the sadness, NPPCL workers cling to the glimmer of hope that some sort of government intervention would give them a reprieve as it did for their counterparts at the former HPCL factories in the state of Assam.
Earlier on July 7, the Assam government had agreed to spend around Rs 810 crore to resolve the issues regarding the two defunct HPCL paper mills at Jagiroad and Panchgram, even though they had no stake in them.
“Just give us our due. That’s all we ask of the government,” Longkumer said.
Until then, the proposed unrest for Aug. 12 will continue indefinitely until employee demands are met, they said.