The resumption of production at the Karnaphuli Paper Mills (KPM) has been in limbo for the last 21 days because the KPM and the Karnaphuli Gas Distribution Company Limited (KGDCL) continue passing the buck about gas supply to KPM. Since government offices depend on the lone state-owned paper mill for their demand, it is feared that the crisis will soon turn acute.
This situation is expected to have a negative impact and cause instability in the country’s paper market, because no one can say when KPM will start production again.
KPM says that KGDCL suspended gas supply to the paper mill on August 4, and since then nearly 1,000 officials and staff of KPM are sitting idle.
MA Kader, the managing director of KPM, claims that the gas company suspended the supply without any prior notice. “They can’t do it. It has put production into uncertainty. We have notified the concerned authorities,” he added.
Meantime, KGDCL Managing Director Khaiz Ahmed Mozumder said: “There is a technical glitch in KPM’s distribution line. KPM has to repair it on its own.”
According to KGDCL, fixing the glitch will cost KPM nearly Tk 5 crore. KGDCL has washed its hands off the problem by informing the paper mill that “It’s the customer’s issue.”
Government to face the inconvenience
KPM says that they supply to the ministries, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board, the Election Commission, the High Court, the education boards and to public universities.
KPM Managing Director MA Kader fears that if the mill does not get back into production immediately, these government offices will face inconvenience, and there will be instability in the local paper market.
Sources at KPM say that the paper mills presently has orders for the supply of nearly 3,000 tons over the next few of months, but the supply has become uncertain because of this crisis.
“This issue was supposed to have been resolved immediately. Though the concerned authorities have been informed, so far there is still no light at the end of the tunnel,” Kader added.
When it was established in 1953, KPM used to be the largest paper mills in Asia with an annual capacity of 30,000 metric tons. But now its present its annual production is 6000-10,000 metric tons of paper, and that was before this halt in production.
Laborers in limbo
The suspension in production has already had several adverse effects in the areas adjacent to the mills. These areas have more than 20,000 local people who are directly or indirectly dependent on paper production.
Sumon, a worker of the mill, said: “Our salary is irregular. Usually, the mill pays us once in three months.” Now he doubts that he will get arrears wages if the standoff continues.
Besides, around 5,000 tons of bamboo pulp has piled up under the open sky. If the suspension lingers, this raw material worth around Tk 1 crore will become unusable.
Another worker, Mostafa Kamal, said that the production halt will have an adverse effect on the machinery that has been turned off.
Workers continue to speculate about the outcome as suspension of production continues. The president of the KPM workers’ union, Abdur Razzak, smells a rat. He says: “If KPM is shut down, the government will have no alternative but to buy from the private companies at higher prices.
“Closure of KPM will benefit private ventures. The ongoing situation might be a part of their conspiracy. A quarter is hatching a plot to put the government in trouble,” he commented.