Urgent Appeal: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) forwards this Hunger Alert regarding the starvation deaths of 10 plantation labourers in Bhuvan valley tea garden in Cachar, Assam:

INDIA: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths

 February 7, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-002-2012

 

  Send an Appeal Letter

7 February 2012
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INDIA:Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths

ISSUES: Right to life; starvation death; rights of workers; right to health; safe drinking water
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), a human rights group based in Assam state that 10 workers died from starvation after their health deteriorated due to working conditions that failed to guarantee their life with dignity for decades. After a private company, Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate closed down the estate in which they were working in October 8, 2011, about 500 permanent and another 500 casual workers lost their jobs and so far 10 workers died of lack of food and proper medical treatment. According to the fact-finding mission conducted by the BHRPC on January 27, 2012, the workers have been deprived of their rights as they were forced do overwork and were paid very low wages without being provided any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages and their provident fund suspended. The rights of plantation workers to minimum wage, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act 1951 have not been implemented. In the course of closure, the government failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor have not reached those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it is one of the causes leading to the deaths. 

CASE DETAILS:

According to the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 10 workers died of starvation and lack of medical treatment after the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate (Estate) was closed in October 8, 2011. The Estate had been running since British colonisation ofIndiawith around 1000 workers in Cachar district of Assam state,India. The closure led to around 500 permanent workers and another 500 casual workers becoming jobless. Without proper dialogue among workers and the Estate and the delay of payment for nine weeks’ wages and of provident funds before the closure, all workers have lost their livelihoods and were exposed to the food and health insecurity.

Until today, 10 workers, Rameshwar Kurmi (45), Subhasini Paul (80), Shachindra Ree (32), Shyamacharan Bauri (55), Nagendra Bauri (55), Sonamani Pandey (40), Bharati Kal (45), Susham Tanti (35), Ratna Goala (50), and Ramashish Dushad (80) died suffering from lack of food and medical treatment. Some became sick after prolonged hard labour in the plantation and their health condition worsened after losing their jobs since they cannot afford to purchase food or medicines.

[photo: Ramashish Dushad who died on January 28]

Other workers have been suffering from various sicknesses but have never received medical treatment. Mr. Prakash Ghatowar (80) and his daughter-in-law Moni Ghatowar (32) of Didarkhush Grant have pain in their legs. Prakash’s grandchildren Pinki Ghatowar (17), Kamalabati Ghatowar (15) and Rinki Ghatowar (12) are compelled to collect firewood from the far off jungles and sell them at the markets giving up their studies.

Sricharan Bauri was a permanent worker of the Estate but has not received food subsidy or medical treatment for last six months, and as a result, his mother Mrs. Belbati Bauri (75 years old) finds it difficult to manage daily life. Belbati gets weaker and sick and may face death soon. In spite of the closure of the Estate, they are still identified as an Above the Poverty Line (APL) family which does not entitle them to receive various government subsidies targeting the poor and therefore have not received any assistance from the administration. Other family members collect firewood to pay for food and medicines for the sick family members.

Another worker Mr. Putul Bauri (50 years old) also has pain in his legs. He testified that for decades while working in the Estate, the workers including him suffered a lot from low wages, overwork, and lack of basic facilities that can ensure their life with dignity.

In fact, since started, the workers have been deprived of their basic rights as workers and other basic facilities, which are ensured by the Plantation Labour Act 1951 as well as by other national policies such as the Public Food Distribution Scheme (PDS) or health care system. The average daily wage was around 55 rupees (1.12 USD) which is far less than the minimum wage inAssam, 100 rupees. The workers often overworked, for which they were not paid. The workers have not been provided any medical facilities, safe drinking water and sanitation under the Act. Thus, the deceased workers as testified did not face death just due to lack of food and medical treatment after the closure, but the workers’ rights to food and health have been violated for decades infringing the Constitution of India, the Plantation Labour Act, and the international human rights laws which legally bind the government.

The BHRPC discovered that the health centre under the National Rural Health Mission does not function properly as it is allegedly run by an unqualified practitioner. Medicines are not available either. The canal constructed under the MGNREGS aiming to guarantee 100 day-employment in rural area for the poor is the only source of water for the workers in this area. Water from canal has been used for multiple purposes such as washing, cooking and drinking. According to the workers, the MGNREGS hardly provides days for employment. [photo: water from canal]

When the Estate was winding up, the workers were told that the Estate was suffering loss and would recover very soon, which did not happen. They were even told that they had better forget the delayed wages. The Estate closed down on October 8, 2011 and the government authorities did not make any intervention to ensure the fundamental rights of workers. The Estate rather tried to suppress the protest of the workers who demanded due wages and other assistances. The administration failed to make intervention when the workers approached them to ask for assistance. The Deputy Commissioner of Cachar district assured that he would intervene but no action was taken at that time.

The administration made promises, which never translated into reality. The meeting in the office of the Deputy Commissioner resolved that the Estate would be opened on January 23, 2012, which did not happen till today. On January 25, Additional District Commissioner (ADC) Mr. Debashish Chakrabarti, ADC Mr. S. K. Das, Assistant Labour Commissioner Mr. K. Singson, the MLA and the Secretary of Barak Cha Shramik Union Mr. Dinesh Prasad Goala, Assistant Manager of the Tea Estate Mr. Fulan Barbhuiya and others participated in a meeting held in the conference hall of the Deputy Commissioner. This meeting decided that a committee be formed under chairmanship of the SDO (civil) of Lakhipur Sub Division to manage the estate.

Yet, there has been no action taken to provide proper compensation for the deceased and their families and to restart the plantation with legitimate working conditions guaranteeing the rights of workers. At present, more workers and their families suffer from lack of food and medical treatment. Without immediate assistance for food and health, they may face the same fate as the 10 deceased workers. It is the government’s responsibility to immediately provide medical support and food subsidy to protect the life of workers in accordance with its obligations under national and international laws.

The local human rights group has already filed a complaint to the Assam Human Rights Commission, yet no response has been received so far.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please express your deep concern about the deceased workers and other workers who lost their job and currently suffer from starvation and lack of medical treatment by sending letters to the government authorities listed below. Please note that theAssam government fails to implement the national law that ensure the rights of plantation workers and further ignore the international human rights laws to ensure the right to life with dignity. The AHRC will send a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to adequate food and on the right to health respectively.

To support this appeal, please click here:

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Call for immediate assistance for food and medical treatment for the jobless workers suffering from starvation and sicknesses inAssam

Name of the deceased:
1. Rameshwar Kurmi, 45 years old
2. Subhasini Paul, 80 years old
3. Shachindra Ree, 32 years old
4. Shyamacharan Bauri, 55 years old
5. Nagendra Bauri, 55 years old
6. Sonamani Pandey, 40 years old
7. Bharati Kal, 45 years old,
8. Susham Tanti, 35 years old,
9. Ratna Goala, 50 years old
10. Ramashish Dushad, 80 years old

Date of incident: Since October 2011
Place of incident: Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, Cachar district of Assam state,India

I am writing to voice my deep concern about 10 deceased workers who had worked in the tea plantation that was closed down on October 8, 2011. After the tea plantation estate closed, about 500 permanent workers and another 500 casual workers have lose their job and were confronted to an extremely vulnerable situation suffering from lack of food and medical treatment. The workers have been deprived of the wages due for nine weeks of labour and of their provident fund. So far, 10 workers died of starvation and lack of medical care and others face a similar situation without getting any assistance from the government.

I am informed that Mr. Prakash Ghatowar (80) and his daughter-in-law Moni Ghatowar (32) of Didarkhush Grant have pain in their legs. Prakash’s grandchildren Pinki Ghatowar (17), Kamalabati Ghatowar (15) and Rinki Ghatowar (12) are compelled to collect firewood from the far off jungles and to sell them at the markets giving up their studies.

Sricharan Bauri who was a permanent worker of the Estate, has not received any food subsidy or medical treatment for last six months, resulting that his mother Mrs. Belbati Bauri (75 years old) finds it difficult to manage daily life. Belbati gets weaker and sick and may face death soon. In spite of the closure of the Estate, they are still identified as an Above the Poverty Line (APL) family which does not entitle them to receive various government subsidies targeting the poor and therefore have not received any assistance from the administration. Other family members collect firewood to pay for food and medicines for the sick family members. Another worker Mr. Putul Bauri (50 years old) also has pain in his legs. He testified that for decades while working in the Estate, the workers including him suffered a lot from low wages, overwork, and lack of basic facilities that can ensure their life with dignity.

I am aware that since started, the workers have been deprived of their basic rights as workers and of other basic facilities, which are ensured by the Plantation Labour Act 1951 as well as by other national policies such as the Public Food Distribution Scheme (PDS) or health care system. The average daily wage was around 55 rupees (1.12 USD) which is far less than the minimum wage in Assam, 100 rupees. The workers often overworked, for which they were not paid. The workers have not been provided medical facilities, safe drinking water, and sanitation under the Act. Thus, the deceased workers as testified did not face death just due to lack of food and medical treatment after the closure, but the workers’ rights to food and health have been violated for decades infringing the Constitution of India, the Plantation Labour Act, and the international human rights laws which legally bind the government.

I am informed that the BHRPC discovered that the health centre under National Rural Health Mission does not function properly as it is allegedly run by an unqualified practitioner. Medicines are not available either. The canal constructed under the MGNREGS aiming to guarantee 100 day-employment in rural area for the poor is the only source of water for the workers in this area. Water from the canal has been used for multiple purposes such as washing, cooking and drinking.

When the Estate was winding up, the workers were told that the Estate was suffering loss and would recover very soon, which did not happen. They were even told that they had better forget the delayed wages. The Estate closed down on October 8, 2011 and the government authority did not make any intervention to ensure the fundamental rights of workers. The Estate rather tried to suppress the protest of the workers who demanded the due wages and other assistances. The administration failed to intervene when the workers approached them to ask for assistance. The Deputy Commissioner of Cachar district assured that he will intervene but no action was taken at that time.

The administration made promises, which never translated into reality. The meeting in the office of the Deputy Commissioner resolved that the Estate would be opened on January 23, 2012, which did not happen till today. On January 25, Additional District Commissioner (ADC) Mr. Debashish Chakrabarti, ADC Mr. S. K. Das, Assistant Labour Commissioner Mr. K. Singson, the MLA and the Secretary of Barak Cha Shramik Union Mr. Dinesh Prasad Goala, Assistant Manager of the Tea Estate Mr. Fulan Barbhuiya and others participated in a meeting held in the conference hall of the Deputy Commissioner. This meeting decided that a committee be formed under chairmanship of the SDO (civil) of Lakhipur Sub Division to manage the estate.

Yet, there has been no action taken to provide proper compensation for the deceased and their families and to restart the plantation with legitimate working condition guaranteeing the rights of workers. At present, more workers and their families suffer from lack of food and medical treatment. Without immediate assistance for food and health, they may face the same fate as the 10 deceased workers.

I therefore, urge you to make immediate and proper intervention to provide food subsidy and medical treatment for emergency relief. A temporary medical camp should be established urgently to address the serious health issues currently faced by the workers and their families. I am of the opinion that the government has a duty to prevent further death and sickness in accordance with the Constitution of India and the international human rights laws that bind it to respect and protect the fundamental rights. To realize those rights, it is highly required to provide immediate support to the workers.

I further urge you to provide proper compensation for those who died of starvation and lack of medical care and their families. The government is responsible for their death as it failed to implement the domestic laws and policies. All available government schemes should be fully implemented to protect their rights. Furthermore, when the plantation restarts, all the rights of workers should be ensured in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act and international human rights standard.

I will continuously monitor your action for the workers and their families, looking forward to your immediate response.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Tarun Gogoi
Chief Minister of Assam
Assam Secretariat, Dispur
Guwahati-6, Assam
INDIA
Fax: +91 361 2262069

2. Chief Secretary
Assam Secretariat, Dispur
Guwahati-6, Assam
INDIA
Fax: +91 361 2260900
Email: psccy_it@assam.nic.in

3. Dr. Nazrul Islam
Cabinet Minister
Food & Civil Supplies, Welfare of Minorities
Assam Secretariat, Dispur
Guwahati-6, Assam
INDIA

4. Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge
Union Minister of Labour & Employment
Shram Shakti Bhawan
Rafi Marg, New Delhi – 110001
Room No. 120
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2371 1708

5. Mrs. Krishna Tirath
Minister of State
Ministry of Women and Child Development
Shastri Bhavan, Jeevandeep Building
New Delhi
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23074052, 23074053, 23074054

6. Mr. Justice S. Barman Roy
Chairperson
Assam Human Rights Commission
STATFED H.O. Building, GMC Road
Bhangagarh, Guwahati
Pin – 781005, Assam
INDIA
Fax: +91 361 2529450, 2527076
Email: hrca@sancharnet.in

7. Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2338 4863
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

 

  Send an Appeal Letter

Document Type :

Hunger Alert Case

Document ID :

AHRC-HAC-002-2012

Countries :

India

Issues :

Labour rightsRight to foodRight to healthRight to life

 URL:  http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAC-002-2012

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