Archive for the ‘Starvation deaths’ Category

The price of tea from death valley

September 20, 2013
  • AMANDA HODGE IN BARAK VALLEY, ASSAM
  • From: The Australian
  • August 31, 2013

AS India’s well-fed politicians bickered over a proposed Right to Food bill this week in New Delhi, workers in some of northeast Assam’s most remote tea gardens were literally starving on their feet.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

In seven months last year, 34 people died of starvation or malnutrition-linked diseases on a single tea estate, Bhuvan Valley in southern Barak Valley, when owners temporarily shut operations and stopped paying workers for demanding better conditions and eight months of owed wages.

“It was more like Death Valley than Bhuvan Valley. People were dying from one house to another,” says Prasenjit Biswas, who chairs the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee that brought the issue to the attention of authorities. Under pressure from the government and National Human Rights Commission, the owners restarted operations but the deaths have continued.

From the roadside, Bhuvan Valley looks just like the gardens of Eden on the tea packets from which so many Australians brew their tea; flashes of colourful saris amid land lakes of topiaried green that seem to levitate above hillocks and plains.

It is less picturesque up close.

As tired, bony women file from the gardens at dusk, Mannu Ravidas, a casual tea labourer, waits for his wife.

Like most of the workers here he was born on the estate, descended from the original tribal workers trafficked to Assam from central India during British rule.

His ribs protrude from his body and his legs bow outwards in the tell-tale sign of rickets, a common affliction among workers.

Ravidas, 50, says during last year’s closure his family “went hungry every day”, and his father eventually died.

“We are still hungry,” he says. “We eat rice and roti two times a day. One meal is full, the other half. We give my two children more than we eat ourselves but things are much worse than they used to be. When they were small they did not need so much.”

His wife is the only permanent tea labourer in the family. She receives 72 rupees ($1.20) a day, and weekly subsidised rations of 5kg of rice and 3kg of flour that looks like sawdust.

To supplement her meagre income, Ravidas buys sacks of rice and resells them by the roadside.

“So many people fell sick and died, including children,” says Champa, who heads the garden’s women’s panchayat (council).

“Things improved a little when the new manager came but now he has gone and we’re worried. He tried to get a doctor for the dispensary here, and for the owner to pay us the money he owes, but the owner refused so he left.”

The same thing happened before last year’s deaths and workers here are again frantic with worry.

With no manager to endorse their daily pickings, how will they be paid?

Assam produces half a million tonnes of strong black tea annually, filling the tea bags of some of the most recognised tea brands sold in Australia, including Liptons, Twinings and Tetley. It represents half of India’s total tea production.

Trying to understand the anachronistic slavery like labour system and working conditions of labourers in tea industry in Assam that drive them to starvation deaths. In Bhuvan valley tea estate on 19 August 2013 Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, Amanda Hodge and Dr Prasenjit Biswas. — at Bhuvan valley Tea Estate, Cachar, Assam.

Trying to understand the anachronistic slavery like labour system and working conditions of labourers in tea industry in Assam that drive them to starvation deaths. In Bhuvan valley tea estate on 19 August 2013 Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, Amanda Hodge and Dr Prasenjit Biswas. — at Bhuvan valley Tea Estate, Cachar, Assam.

But declining productivity — and hence profits — in many Assamese tea gardens has had an alarming impact on the health and living standards of tea workers. Barak Valley has the lowest-paid tea workers in India, with a minimum wage of R72 a day — less than half the federally mandated minimum daily wage of R158.54 and at least R12 less than workers in neighbouring valleys.

Estate owners say the rest of the wage is paid in kind, through the provision of housing, pensions, food rations and proper healthcare — services they are compelled to provide under the Tea Plantation Labourers’ Act.

In reality, many estates fail to deliver even basic services such as clean water, and owe their workers millions in unpaid wages.

Fair Trade Australia spokesman Nick Tabart says while consumers have successfully pressured the coffee and chocolate industries into improving wages and conditions, the tea industry lags way behind. Of 900-odd tea gardens in Assam, nine are Fair Trade certified.

“We’re well aware that (Assam) is a region that requires attention,” he told The Weekend Australian.

But the biggest barrier to securing living wages on tea estates is decades of low prices, underinvestment by tea estate owners and a “difficult legacy” of bonded labour.

Nirmal Bin’s wife Basanti was 33 when she died on July 30 after a four-month illness. She was a permanent Bhuvan Valley tea worker and so entitled to medicines from the garden’s “dispensary” (just an outbuilding tacked on to an overgrown ruin) to treat her diagnosed kidney disease. “But they would only give us paracetamol,” he says.

Many retirees on the estate have been forced back to work because owners refuse to pay out their pensions from the state’s Provident Fund — money deducted from wages that should have been accruing over decades.

Tea garden owners are required to match that sum each week but the union admits proprietors of Bhuvan Valley and at least nine other local gardens have not done so.

“Their wages are very low, there are no other facilities, housing, medicine, drinking water,” says BN Kurmi, a union official based in the regional capital of Silchar. “If we are more strict then (the owners) will close the gardens and then again the starvation will come.”

Kurmi admits many workers are exploited and that the union “failed” the starving labourers of Bhuvan Valley last year.

It is still failing them.

Behind the dispensary, Imti Rani Dushad is awaiting a pension payout following the death of her husband last year from tuberculosis, which he probably contracted from the canal water that workers relied on until a water treatment plant was finally built a few years ago.

He died inside the dirt-floor hut in which she must now raise their five children alone. The long-closed dispensary reopened a week later.

Now her greatest fear is that she too will fall ill.

“There’s no hope for me or my children,” she says. “How can I improve our condition? My neighbours can’t help me. Their condition is as bad as mine. Except for human sympathy they can’t offer anything.”

In another hut, Sri Charam Baruri nursed his dying mother last year. Her death was long and painful but he doesn’t know what killed her.

His wife, the mother of four children, died a few months earlier, from another mystery cause that may have been meningitis.

In the looming dark — there is no electricity — worker after worker comes forward to tell of their losses.

India’s federal Tea Board says many of the 109 tea gardens of Barak Valley have been neglected by the tea owners, who lease the land from the state.

“We’re focused on helping them improve methods and quality,” says R Kujur, the board’s assistant director in Silchar, though workers’ welfare is a “state government concern”.

To rejuvenate declining tea estates the Tea Board is offering up to R80,000 per hectare to gardens willing to pull unproductive bushes and plant better performing varieties. Aware that publicity of shocking labour conditions — combined with a slide in tea quality — can hurt the industry, it has introduced a certification scheme and is pushing for proprietors to sign on.

“It will take time to motivate the owners and labourer but I can assure you that within three years you will see a huge difference,” Kujur says.

Bhuvan Valley is replanting 20ha of bushes but the Tea Board is still working to get gardens like Craig Park on board. The once grand estate’s tea bushes are producing 50 per cent less leaves than a decade ago.

The district’s deputy commissioner described conditions at Craig Park as a “sorry state of affairs” and noted many workers had died while awaiting retirement payouts. Labourers fear the garden will eventually be closed.

If that happens, thousands of workers will be forced off the land — with nothing to show for generations of cheap toil.

Published at The Australian and available at http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/the-price-of-tea-from-death-valley/story-fnb1brze-1226707856072#sthash.9pLYjpRk.dpuf

Advertisements

How poverty wages for tea pickers fuel India’s trade in child slavery

July 25, 2013
in Assam
The Observer, Saturday 20 July 2013 22.00 BST

When the trafficker came knocking on the door of Elaina Kujar’s hut on a tea plantation at the north-eastern end of Assam, she had just got back from school. Elaina was 14 and wanted to be a nurse. Instead, she was about to lose four years of her life as a child slave.

She sits on a low chair inside the hut, playing with her long dark hair as she recalls how her owner would sit next to her watching porn in the living room of his Delhi house, while she waited to sleep on the floor. “Then he raped me,” she says, looking down at her hands, then out of the door. Outside, the monsoon rain is falling on the tin roof and against the mud-rendered bamboo strip walls, on which her parents have pinned a church calendar bearing the slogan The Lord is Good to All.

Elaina was in that Delhi house for one reason: her parents, who picked the world-famous Assam tea on an estate in Lakhimpur district, were paid so little they could not afford to keep her. There are thousands like her, taken to Delhi from the tea plantations in the north-east Indian state by a trafficker, sold to an agent for as little as £45, sold on again to an employer for up to £650, then kept as slaves, raped, abused. It is a 21st-century slave trade. There are thought to be 100,000 girls as young as 12 under lock and key in Delhi alone: others are sold on to the Middle East and some are even thought to have reached the UK.

Every tea plantation pays the same wages. Every leaf of every box of Assam tea sold by Tetley and Lipton and Twinings and the supermarket own brands – Asda, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the rest – is picked by workers who earn a basic 12p an hour.

If it says Fairtrade on the box, or certified by the Rainforest Alliance or the Ethical Tea Partnership, it makes no difference: the worker received the same basic cash payment – 89 rupees (£1) a day, a little over half the legal wage for an unskilled worker in Assam of 158.54 rupees. To place that in context, a worker receives about 2p in cash for picking enough tea to fill a box of 80 tea bags, which then sells for upwards of £2 in the UK. The companies say they know the wages are low, and they are trying to make things better, but their hands are tied by the growers. The growers, who set the wages by collective bargaining, say it is all they can afford.

But there is a price for keeping wages so low, and it is paid by the workers who cannot afford to keep their daughters. When the traffickers come knocking, offering to take the girls away, promising good wages and an exciting new life, they find it hard to say no. “He said he would change our lives,” says Elaina, now 20. “The tea garden was closed when he came and my parents were not working, so my father wanted to send me.”

The trafficker had promised excitement and glamour: instead she started work every day at 4am and worked until midnight, and though he promised to give her 1,500 rupees a month, she was never paid. He kept her as a prisoner, unable to leave the house or contact her family.

“His wife was suspicious about what was happening. I told her he had raped me but he denied it and told me to shut up my mouth,” she says. “After that, I was always crying, but he kept me locked in the house. I was afraid. I had no money and he threatened that I would end up in a brothel.”

She was saved only when he sent her to a new owner who, on learning her story, sent her home.

Elaina’s is not an isolated case. Rabina Khatun, now 18, discovered she had been sold into slavery when she agreed to go to Delhi to work as a maid. A woman from the village had tempted her with the promise of 3,000 rupees a month. “She said, ‘Come and see Delhi. It is bigger than your village’,” she says. She was 14: it was two years before she was allowed to go home. When she complained she had not been paid, she was sold on again to three men as a plaything. “I was taken to a house and they locked me in. Then they raped me. Afterwards they took me to Old Delhi station and left me there with no money. I was physically and mentally ill from what had happened to me. I want the men to be punished. I am never going to Delhi again. I am very angry. I want to kill them.”

Both Elaina and Rabina gave the Observer written permission to identify them as a way of exposing the trade.

Indian government figures show 126,321 trafficked children were rescued from domestic service in 2011-12, a year-on-year increase of nearly 27%. But many anguished parents have no idea what has happened to their daughters. According to India‘s National Crime Record Bureau, a child goes missing in India every eight minutes, and more than a third are never found.

For the parents of the missing, the pain is hard to bear. Saphira Khatun carefully places the picture of her daughter Minu Begum on the table in front of her. There are tears in her eyes. Minu had been doing well in school and wanted to join the police. But her head was turned by promises of money from a female trafficker in the village. “She had big dreams,” says her sister Munu, 20. “Any 12-year-old wants to go to the big city: it is more exciting than the village.”

One evening, Minu failed to come home. Her family have not seen her since that day four years ago. “Nobody does anything to stop bad things happening to poor girls,” says her 17-year-old sister Nadira. “Please help us to get our sister back here. Wherever she is in India, please give me my sister back.”

Arjun and Mukti Tati’s daughter Binita would be 17 now. She was 14 when the trafficker took her away with promises of money and a better life. But a year passed, then another, and no word came. They went to plead with the trafficker to help find her, but he refused. “She was a very gentle girl, always playing, very happy,” Mukti says. “We went to him 100 times but he always said he had no information.”

The traffickers live openly among the other villagers. They argue that they are victims too. Shobaha Tirki, 50, worked in the tea gardens for years, rarely earning more than 500 rupees a month. One day he met a big trafficker who promised him good money if he would send girls from the village to his placement agency. “I took maybe 20 girls from here to placement agencies in Delhi. A lot of them came back but five or six did not.” He gets 10,000 rupees per girl. It is not hard to convince them to go with him, he says. “I tell them about Delhi and how it is good to go to a big city,” he says. “I tell them they will have a room of their own and a bathroom of their own.”

The girls who come back and have been cheated of their wages head straight for his house, he says. He tells them to talk to the agency. “They never get their money though,” he says.

Many of the traffickers are women, who find it easier to convince the girls to go with them. Kusma Takri, 27, gets 4,000 rupees for every girl. She says she needs the money. “This is my job. I know the Delhi placement agencies are bad but I am caught between the placement agencies and poverty.”

Rama Shankar Chaurasia, chair of child rights group Bachpan Bachao Andolan, says the scale of the trafficking is immense. “They are kept as slaves, their wages are withheld and taken by their placement agency or supplier, their employers are told not to pay them directly because if they do the girls will run away.”

The going price for a maid can be as much as 60,000 rupees, he says. “The person who pays that feels they have purchased the girl. But the rising demand from the ever-growing middle class must not be at the cost of slavery for hundreds of thousands of children.”

The UK brews 165 million cups of tea a day, importing about 10% of world production. Assam, in the far north-east of India, has more than 850 tea estates. Many of the workers are descendants of tribal groups from central India originally trafficked to Assam as labour during British rule.

The state produced 590 million kilos of tea last year, more than half of the total Indian production of 1 billion kg. It sells for 140 rupees a kilogram at auction in Assam, but according to a joint report by Oxfam and the Ethical Tea Partnership, workers there are paid at rates equivalent to just 40% of the average Indian wage.

According to the Indian Tea Association, all workers in the main Brahmaputra valley estates receive a basic cash wage of 89 rupees (£1) a day – a little over half the minimum legal wage. The ITA claims that benefits in kind make the total package worth 178 rupees a day for permanent workers and 158 rupees for temporary workers.

Its director general, Monojit Dasgupta, claims the tea plantations have an agreement with the state government that whatever its members pay will be regarded as the legal wage. “It is not a question of paying so little, it is what the industry can afford,” he says. But the employers can achieve the basic legal minimum wage for the state only by including in the calculation statutory benefits such as maternity pay and sickness benefit, and discretionary items such as free tea.

Rights groups say this is unethical. “Tea planters and tea packers have known for years that wages in the industry are shockingly low – often below internationally acknowledged poverty levels,” says Ron Oswald, general secretary of the International Union of Food Workers. “Yet instead of tackling this honestly they hide behind certification schemes and claims of additional benefits and food rations – which are in fact ways of keeping workers tied into semi-feudal relations with tea garden owners.”

Murray Worthy, from War on Want, says benefits in kind are no substitute for the cash wages the workers deserve. “It beggars belief that the giant tea brands can justify these poverty wages. With the lion’s share of the price of tea ending up in their profits, they could easily afford to ensure all tea workers are paid a decent wage”.

There is a general agreement among the brands, retailers and certification bodies that wages on the tea plantations are a problem.

Fairtrade – which certifies Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose teas – says it accepts that wage levels in Assam are “well below” living wage levels and says it is working with other certification bodies to improve them. A spokeswoman said that prices need to rise if progress is to be made on improving wages.

The Ethical Tea Partnership – which certifies Twinings and Tetley – says its members are powerless to set wages but points to a joint report commissioned with Oxfam and published in May, which highlighted problems with low pay. Commenting on the report, Alison Woodhead from Oxfam said: “No matter how big and powerful, individual tea companies or certification organisations cannot tackle the deep-rooted and complex barriers to a living wage on their own. The best chance we have of eradicating poverty wages is for the whole industry – producers, governments, retailers, trade unions, companies and certification organisations – to work together to find a solution. We are delighted that that process has now started and we will continue to support its progress.”

The Rainforest Alliance – which certifies Unilever brands, including Lipton – says it hopes certified farms will be paying a realistic living wage within five years.

Typhoo says it works closely with all three certification bodies to improve conditions on its plantations.

The Indian government hopes to have 335 anti-trafficking units set up in police stations around the country by the end of this year. But even the police admit there is no simple solution.

At Laluk police station, the faces of missing girls stare out from the noticeboard. Sub-inspector Nirmal Biswas, the newly arrived officer in charge, sits behind a large desk next to his crime chart. It lists 24 kidnappings for 2012, against 10 rapes and 17 thefts.

He reports that in the past month police have registered four cases of trafficking, and recovered one girl and her trafficker.

It is progress, he says. But it will not stop the trade, because the money which has been earmarked for the area by the government never reaches those who need it.

“It is the poverty here,” he says. “If any trafficker offers 1,000 rupees, they will get girls. It will be defeated only with employment and development and eradication of poverty.”

The Article is reposted from the Guardian from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/20/poverty-tea-pickers-india-child-slavery

Assam: The displaced Reangs in Hailakandi district

October 3, 2012

The Reangs are a tribe mostly living in Mizoram state of North East India. They are also known as Brus.  Their displacement is mainly the result of the ethnic clash with the dominant Mizos in Mizoram.

In this Article (The Displaced Reangs in Hailakandi Districtby Abdul Mannan Mazumder and Bornali Bhattacharjree, an attempt has been made to reflect briefly on the displacement of this small ethnic group as a good number of Reangs took shelter in the Assam–Mizoram border in the southern-most part of Hailakandi district of Assam in 1997.

The Article was published in an anthology of papers/articles on Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) in North East India titled Blisters on their Feet: Tales of Internally Displaced Persons in India’s North East edited by Samir Kumar Das and published by Sage Publications in 2008.

It is posted here only for information of the concerned and interested people and not for any commercial purpose. Readers/viewers are requested to get a copy of the book for reference and other purposes.

(BHRPC does not guarantee the authenticity of the statistics and information cited in the article and the authors/editor/publisher are solely responsible for views expressed.)

To view/read/download click here.

 

 

 

Constructive engagement elusive at India’s Second UPR at the UN

May 31, 2012

India dodged recommendation for repeal of AFSPA

New Delhi, May 29, 2012 – India’s human rights record was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) under the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 24 May 2012 in Geneva. The review was marked by a general lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India (GoI). Regrettably, the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General (who led the government delegation) stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct”. According to Miloon Kothari, Convenor of the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR): “By employing a defensive and largely selfrighteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”

Of the eighty countries which participated in India’s UPR – a peer-review process of the human rights record of all UN member states – many reiterated the recommendations made during India’s first UPR in 2008 to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED). GoI accepted both recommendations four years ago but they have remained unfulfilled. On the question of torture, GoI referred to the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB), which is pending before Parliament, without commenting on the non-compliance of the PTB with CAT’s definition of torture. WGHR regrets that GoI left many questions unanswered, including desisting from commenting on the ratification of CED.

WGHR is also disturbed thatIndiadodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism. Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, which camouflaged the systematic impunity enjoyed by armed forces for human rights abuse in the Northeast of the country and Kashmir: “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

Strong recommendations were made toIndiaon the need to impose a de jure moratorium on the death penalty. The government’s response, that simply cited its de facto policy of awarding death penalty in the ‘rarest of rare cases’, is also deeply unsatisfactory in light of statistics that show an increase in the number of death sentences awarded by the courts.

There were recurring concerns by many states on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief, anti-conversion laws and targeting of religious minorities. Surprisingly, while GoI has initiated a Communal Violence Bill to address the issue of violence against religious minorities, it expressed uncertainty before the HRC for the need for such a law. The Indian government’s insistence at the international level that existing laws and judicial decisions are sufficient to deal with egregious violations such as torture and attacks on religious minorities is very disappointing, when new laws on these issues are being debated at the national level.

On the multiple recommendations it received on the need to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India once again stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. Many states also recommended withdrawal of GoI’s reservation to Article 16 of CEDAW – which guarantees non-discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family life – and emphasized the need to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. WGHR deeply regrets the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

Sadly, GoI failed to use the UPR as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to bridge the gap between the law and the grim statistics on various forms of gender-based violence. Its tendency to rely upon domestic law repeatedly to explain the multiple challenges to the attainment of gender equality is disquieting, especially when access to justice remains a barrier for many, and several domestic laws are inconsistent with the universal standards on sex equality.

WGHR, however, welcomes GoI’s positive shift on the issue of homosexuality, which was raised by many countries. The government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court.

The human rights of children received significant attention at the HRC. States repeatedly raised issues related to child mortality, child labour, child sexual abuse and trafficking. Many governments stressed the need for a reduction of the excessively high rates of maternal and child mortality and urged the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals in that regard. It was also recommended thatIndiaratify the Third Optional Protocol (establishing a communications procedure) to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A notable number of states also reiterated the need to ban all forms of child labour. The GoI stated that it was “fully conscious of issues pertaining to child labour” but that there was “no magic wand to address it”. This stand is oblivious to the fact that the legal scenario in the country has changed as being at school and not at work is now a fundamental right for all children from 6 to 14 backed by a powerful Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The logical corollary of this change is for GoI to revisit its stand and amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

Given the scale of poverty and large-scale denial of socio-economic rights in India, the insufficient attention given to economic, social and cultural rights at the UPR – with the exception of health and education – was disturbing. WGHR hopes, however, that references by member states to the need for more attention to housing for low-income groups and reduction of slums; more focus on poverty alleviation; removal of rural and urban inequities; and improvement of access to water and sanitation, will be turned into recommendations by the HRC before the adoption of the outcome document on Wednesday 30 May, 2012

On the critical issue of the right to adequate and nutritious food, it is disturbing that GoI has dismissed the need to universalise the Public Distribution System, which operates on the basis of an unrealistic poverty line and excludes genuinely poor rural households due to targeting errors, corruption, inefficiency and discrimination in distribution. GoI has also failed to respond to concerns about the rights of peasants and farmers, the issue of unprecedented numbers of farmers’ suicides and the endemic malnourishment that still persists in the country, as recently acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself.

Overall, WGHR regrets that GoI desisted from responding to most of the substantial comments, questions and recommendations by states. According to Miloon Kothari: “It remains to be seen whether GoI will take a constructive view and accept the many recommendations it will receive from the Human Rights Council on 30 May and engage in a genuine dialogue, including cooperation, with the UN between the second and third UPR. The opportunity also still exists, prior to the final adoption ofIndia’s report in September 2012, for GoI to begin a process of serious consultations with civil society and independent actors – including human rights institutions – at home. It is only when such steps, consistent with a democratic mode of governance, are taken that the UN will be convinced that GoI is serious about fostering an atmosphere that will contribute to an improvement in the adverse human rights situation on the ground.” 

For more information, contact:

 Miloon Kothari, Convenor, Working Group on Human Rights inIndiaand the UN (WGHR) phone (Geneva): +41 792020679; email: miloon.kothari@gmail.com

 Vrinda Grover, Lawyer – phone: +91 9810806181; email: vrindagrover@gmail.com

 Madhu Mehra, Director, Partners for Law in Development (PLD) phone: +91 9810737686; email: programmes@pldindia.org

[The Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN – a national coalition of fourteen human rights organizations and independent experts – works towards the realisation of all civil, cultural, economic, political and social human rights in India, and towards holding the Indian government accountable to its national and international human rights obligations. For information on WGHR, please visit: http://www.wghr.org]

See the original statement here.

NHRC to hear starvation deaths and rights violation cases in North East India

May 27, 2012


Guwahati, 27 May 2012: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will hear cases of human rights violations concerning Assam and Meghalaya including the cases of starvation deaths of the tea workers in Cachar district in camp sitting in Guwahati and Shillong from 28 May to 30 May 2012.

In the Assam sitting at North-Eastern Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi) house,G.S. Road, Guwahati on 28 May about 50 pending cases will be heard and disposed of. Alongside the hunger deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea estate, other important cases to be considered include land-grabbing and deprivation of sources of livelihood of 300 families who face eviction in Karimganj district, alleged eviction of about 6000 adivasis by forest officials from Lungsun forest area in Kokrajhar district, rehabilitation of children rendered orphan or destitute in communal riots in upper Assam districts, denial of basic facilities to the residents of 22 villages in Kamrup district, witch hunting, sexual exploitation of women, illegal coal mining in Tinsukia district, deaths in encounter and custody.

The starvation deaths case and the case of land-grabbing have been filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC).

In the former case the BHRPC has alleged that so far 15 people died in the Bhuvan valley tea estate, a tea garden owned by a Kolkata-based private company, due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper health care since 8 October 2011.

In the case of land-grabbing it has been alleged that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen who reportedly grabbed lands measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) allegedly for rubber plantation in a village where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood.

In both the cases the NHRC has already issued notices to the chief secretary ofAssamcalling for action taken reports.

In a release to the press the NHRC said that a delegation headed by its chairperson Mr. Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and comprising of members, director general (nvestigation), registrar (law) and other senior officers will be in Guwahati, Assam from 28 to 29 May, 2012 and on 30 May, 2012 in Shillong, Meghalaya for its camp sittings.

The cases of Assam will be considered for disposal with necessary directions to the public authorities during the camp sitting at in NEDFi house. Out of the 50 cases, 17 cases will be heard at the full commission sitting chaired by Mr. Justice K G Balakrishnan. 12 cases will be taken up by the division bench comprising of Mr. Justice G.P. Mathur and Mr. P.C. Sharma. 21 cases will be taken up by the division bench comprising of Mr. Justice B.C. Patel and Mr. Satyabrata Pal.

The NHRC in the brief further stated that on 29 May, 2012 the commission will hold discussions with the chief secretary, district magistrates and concerned officers on the progress made by the state government on its recommendations relating to different human rights issues. These will include silicosis, mental health, manual scavenging, prison matters, labour issues, child marriage, prenatal sex selection, population policy etc. A meeting with local NGOs on human rights issues will also be held later in the day.

Cases relating to Meghalaya will be heard in the camp sitting at Hotel Pinewood, Shillong from on 30 May, 2012. The commission will take up nine pending cases, which will be heard by the full fommission and the two division benches respectively. These will include issues of child labour in coalmines, dead male foetus found in several parts in the state, deaths in police firing, torture of labourers at West Garo Hills by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel and ostracization of 17 families facing denial of food grains for 72 months.

In the afternoon session the commission will hold discussions, with senior officers on the progress made by the state government on its recommendations relating to different human rights issues. These issues will include mental health, 28 district programmes, labour issues, manual scavenging, child marriage, prenatal sex selection, population policy and custodial death cases among others.

Hunger Alert: Urge India to save her people from hunger death

May 21, 2012

Dear friends,

Very shockingly, the enforced conditions of starvation and famine and resultant tragedy of hunger deaths of the tea workers of Assam still persists with its all menacing ugliness. Labourers of tea estates in this North East Indian state known worldwide for tea production are dying one after another due to malnutrition and lack of proper health care.

So far 15 workers of a particular tea garden in South Assam died and several others are counting their days, according to the information available with the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC).

 Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 Further information:

The BHRPC conducted a fact-finding study during the last days of January 2012 in the Bhuvan valley tea garden after receiving reports of hunger deaths and released a fact-finding report on 1 February revealing information about deaths of 10 residents of the estate allegedly caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper health care. After that deaths of four more persons were reported.

The latest unfortunate death was of Lakhi Prasad Dushad, a permanent worker of the estate and a resident of North bank division who died on 3 May 2012.

He was only 38 years old. He left behind him his wife Imti Dushad (aged about 30), his sons Kishan Dushad (15), Eleven Dushad (13), Sujit Dushad (11), Hitesh Dushad (8) and 5 year old daughter Sweetie Dushad. Their survival is uncertain and matter of grave concern.

Lakhi Sabor, wife of Giridhari Sabor of Boali area in the garden. She is very weak and has low appetite and low vision.

Lakhi Sabor, wife of Giridhari Sabor of Boali area in the garden. She is very weak and has low appetite and low vision.

It all started in this tea estate, owned by a private company based in Kolkata (West Bengal),  when the owners closed down the estate on 8 October 2011 and abandoned the labourrer, about 500 of whom were permanent and another 1000 casual workers, in response to their demands for payment of outstanding dues of wages, increase in the wages which was about Rs. 41,00 for casual workers and Rs. 55.00 for permanent workers and far below the statutory minimum wages and payment of other withheld benefits. He illegal closure of the estate resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers that pushed them into the condition of starvation and famine leading to the deaths and death-like condition of living. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have not been enforced. In the course of closure, the government also failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights to live with dignity. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor under the government schemes including the ICDS did not properly reach even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.

Even after deaths of so many people the central government ofIndiaand the state government ofAssamhave not yet taken any effective actions for amelioration of the situation except some inquiries designed to serve as a cover-up. Therefore, workers in the garden are still dying.

In view of the above and the commitment ofIndiato the protection of human rights of every citizen and prevention of starvation deaths, the BHRPC urges that:

A. The authorities should provide urgent relief to the tea workers in terms of food supply and medical treatment to prevent further deaths and deterioration of health conditions of sick workers and their dependents.

B. The authorities should conduct a prompt, impartial and objective inquiry into the situation of the garden to fix responsibility for the deaths and the conditions that led to this situation including corruption in implementation of government welfare schemes and non-adherence to the provisions of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 and other laws applicable in the estate management by an independent commission of inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of a high court or the supreme court and comprising of, among others, medical experts, nutrition experts, labour rights and human rights experts.

C. The officials or other persons who would be found negligent and derelict in their legal duties and responsibilities that directly contributed to the developing of the situation that led to the deaths should be prosecuted according to law.

D. The kin and the dependent of the deceased person should be provided with adequate reparation so far money can provide.

E. The authorities should ensure that all outstanding dues of the labourers are paid immediately and the wages of all tea labourers ofAssammade equal for the time being and that the tea gardens are run according to the laws providing all rights and benefits to the labourers under the laws.

In sum, we would also like to see assumption of some moral responsibility for these calamitious circumstances of death under conditions of hunger and malnutrition, instead of a mere legalistic standpoint. We expect that the Govt. at the state and the Centre should speak the truth and does not issue mere denials in a circumlocutory fashion. In this situation of famished deaths, “ought” is more important than “is”.

Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

Bablu Bauri lying in his courtyard. His father Atul Bauri died of hunger recently.

Bablu Bauri lying in his courtyard. His father died of hunger recently.

––––––––––––––––––––––

More information:

The sources of important information in detail about the starvation deathsand the condition of the tea workers that can be found in the internet are given below:

 

BHRPC reports on the continuous tragedy in Bhuvan valley tea estate

1. Preliminary fact-finding report:

            Tea labourers dying of hunger in Assam

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1/)

 

2. Update-I:

 

            Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/)

3. Update-II:

             Two more people died in Assam tea garden

             (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/)

4. Update-III:

            Assam government’s actions regarding starvation deaths are inadequate and misleading

         (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/assam-governments-actions-in-starvation-deaths-are-inadequate-and-misleading/)

5. Update-IV:

             Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/hungeralert4/)

6. Update-V:

             Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

            (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/hunger-alert-5/)

 

Reports and actions by other organizations:

1. Hunger Alert issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

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

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

2. Update on the AHRC Hunger Alert:

            INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility

            (http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012)

3. Preliminary report of the People’s Rights Forum and other oganisations:

            Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

(https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/bhuvan-valley-other-ngos/)

 

News reports and articles in the media (important ones only)

1. 19 January 2012:

            Inquiry into Cachar hunger deaths

            (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120119/jsp/northeast/story_15021706.jsp) –News report in the Telegraph

2. 5 February 2012:

Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths

(http://www.sentinelassam.com/cachar/story.php?sec=2&subsec=12&id=105944&dtP=2012-02-05&ppr=1) – News report in the Sentinel

3.  9 February 2012:

            Tea workers die of starvation

            (http://www.asianage.com/india/tea-workers-die-starvation-031) – News report in the Asian Age

            Rights group seeks prove into starvation deaths

            (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-09/guwahati/31041559_1_starvation-deaths-rights-group-inquiry-panel) – News report in the Times of India

4. 21 February 2012:

Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea

(http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arijitsen/148/63192/stay-hungry-the-story-behind-assam-tea.html) – News reports and talk show in CNN-IBN

5. 25 February 2012

Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley

(http://tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=Ne250212Hunger.asp) – Current Affairs report in the Tehelka Magazine

6. February 2012:

            Tea Industry in Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam and The Plight of The Tea workers (http://swabhimanngo.blogspot.in/2012/02/tea-industry-in-barak-valley-vis-vis.html) –Blog Article in Swabhiman

7. 5 March 2012:

            Team of doctors confirm malnutrition of tea workers

            (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/232180/team-doctors-confirm-malnutrition-tea.html) – News report in the Deccan Herald

8. 13 March 2012

Dispur rap on garden for deaths

<http://vv.telegraphindia.com/1120314/jsp/northeast/story_15246290.jsp&gt; – News report in the Telegraph

9. 1 April 2012:

Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF

(http://sevensisterspost.com/?p=1944) – News report in the Seven Sisters Post

10. 4 April 2012:

            Assam government fails to protect right to life with dignity of tea workers

            (http://newsblaze.com/story/20120404060251zzzz.nb/topstory.html) – Op-ed article in the Newsblaze

11. 18 May 2012

            The dark side of India’s tea industry

            (http://www.france24.com/en/20120518-india-tea-estates-assam-malnutrition-workers-rights) – News report and analysis in the France 24 Television

––––––––––––––––––––––

Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

––––––––––––––––––––––

Guwahati, Assam

21 May 2012

Fore any clarification or further information contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com

France 24 reports starvation deaths of Assam tea workers

May 19, 2012

After the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) released reports on deaths of workers due to starvation, malnutrition and lack health care in the Bhuvan valley tea estate of south Assam, many national and international media groups along with some rights groups including the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have taken up the matter and in their own ways attempted to address the situation. Latest one is a report that has been broadcast today by FRANCE 24 Television, an international news channel based in Paris, on the basis of the findings of an independent investigation undertaken by its correspondents Natacha Butler and Vikram Singh. They found that people are still dying due to malnutrition and several others are suffering from diseases related to chronic malnutrition due to low wages and absence of medical facilities in violations of laws passed by the Indian parliament as well as international human rights laws. Here is the report:

The dark side of India’s tea industry

Indians are the world’s biggest tea drinkers and producers. Half of the country’s entire output comes from the north-eastern state ofAssam, but the conditions for many of those who work on its tea plantations are appalling. Workers earn well below the minimum wage and malnutrition is also common. Laws about facilities and conditions on tea estates exist, but many don’t comply. Our correspondents Natacha Butler and Vikram Singh went to visit one such estate in the south ofAssam.

By Natacha BUTLER / Vikram Singh

http://www.france24.com/en/sites/all/modules/maison/aef_player/flash/player_new.swf

 

Found at http://www.france24.com/en/20120518-india-tea-estates-assam-malnutrition-workers-rights accessed on 18 May 2012

 

Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

May 8, 2012

Press statement

For Immediate release

Date: 8 May 2012

Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) learnt about untimely death of another worker of a tea garden inAssam. Mr. Lakhi Prasad Dushad, aged about 38 years and a resident of North bank division of the Bhuvan valley tea estate inAssamdied on 3 May 2012. He was a permanent worker of the tea estate.

The BHRPC earlier reported 14 deaths that were found to be caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper medical care in this southAssamtea garden. With this latest death the toll stands at 15, according to the information available with the BHRPC.

According to the BHRPC reports,   the tea estate owned by a private company based in Kolkata, which employed about 500 permanent and approximately another 1000 casual workers, was abandoned by the owners in October 8, 2011 without paying the workers their outstanding wages and other dues. It resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers pushing them into the condition of starvation and famine that led to the deaths of 10 people till 27 January 2012. According to the BHRPC fact-finding report released on 1 February, the workers were deprived of their rights as they were forced to do overwork and were paid very low wages (Rs. 41.00 for casual workers and 50.00 to 55.00 for permanent workers) without being provided with any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages, provident fund and bonus suspended. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have not been enforced. In the course of closure, the government failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights to live with dignity. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor under the government schemes including the ICDS did not properly reach even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.

On receiving information about the death of Mr Dushad, a team from the BHRPC visited the garden and talked with his family and other labourers on 3 May. The team was informed that the immediate cause of the death apparently was tuberculosis. But the labourers contended that because of long time malnutrition the deceased had been very week and vulnerable to attacks of such diseases. This is the reason for a large number of the labourers having tuberculosis while people residing in nearby villages seldom have this disease, they claim.

On the basis of the information provided by the workers, the BHRPC thinks that this is prima facie a clear case of death due to malnutrition and lack of proper medical care since the underlying cause of the death is obviously malnutrition and the immediate cause of tuberculosis is a treatable disease. Moreover, going by the definition of starvation death provided in the National Food Security Bill, 2010 drafted by the National Advisory Council and the Starvation Investigation Protocol prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioners on the right to food the unfortunate death can be termed as the one caused by starvation. This is also a case of failure of both the union government of India and the state government of Assam to ensure right to live with dignity to which every citizen of India is entitled under Article 21 of the Constitution of India as well as international human rights law.

The BHRPC continuously reported to the authorities inIndiaabout the hunger deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea garden since 1 February 2012 but they have not yet taken any effective actions to ameliorate the situation and improve the working condition of the labourers in accordance with the international human rights obligations and laws passed by the Indian parliament. TheAssamgovernment only made the owners re-open the garden and ordered an inquiry as eyewash. Without enforcement of legal obligations of the owners and human rights obligations of the governments the re-opening of the garden appears on the ground nothing short of the return of the beast. Because, it worsened the conditions, instead of ending the woes of the labourers. There are complaints that labourers are not getting loans from provident fund (PF) to get over their cash crunch as the management had only paid 50% of the arrears of PF through the district administration which is even not being released by the authorities. Even the PF claims of the dead labourers were also not being cleared. The garden hospital is still totally non-functional and the hospital run by the government under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has no full time qualified doctor. Though rationing of some staple food has also been started but it excludes most of the dependents of the workers. According to the labourers, both the quality and quantity of the food items supplied are not consumable by human beings.

At this point, the BHRPC is very concerned over the plight of the survivors of Mr Dushad. He left behind his wife Imti Dushad (aged about 30), his sons Kishan Dushad (15), Eleven Dushad (13), Sujit Dushad (11), Hitesh Dushad (8) and 5 year old daughter Sweetie Dushad. Their survival is uncertain in the situation as it now stands for them.

The BHRPC made a supplementary submission about the death of Lakhi Prasad Dushad and the situation now prevailing in the estate to the office of the Supreme Court Commissioners on the right to food as well as the National Human Rights Commission who took cognizance of the hunger deaths in Bhuvan valley on the petitions of the BHRPC. The authorities including the prime minister ofIndiaand the chief minister of Assam have also been informed.

For any clarification or further information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: 09401942234

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com

Bhuvan valley: Stay hungry and shut up

April 3, 2012

‘Stay hungry and shut up’ seems to be the food security policy of Assam government

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar[1]

Uma Goala, 5 year old daughter of Munia Goala of Chengjur in the tea garden suffering from low appetite, vomiting and fever.

Uma Goala, 5 year old daughter of Munia Goala of Chengjur in the tea garden suffering from low appetite, vomiting and fever.

Those whose near and dear ones reportedly died of hunger and lack of medical care in Assam are now being told to shut up and say only what they are told to say. In a tea garden in the North East Indian state where more than 14 people died of hunger, malnutrition and lack of medical care are now being harassed and pressurized into signing papers stating that all is well with them. With the help of their husbands and other male members of their families, workers and helpers of the Anganwadi centres under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Cachar district took signatures of the labourers and other villagers on 31 March 2012 on a paper that stated that the beneficiaries were being provided with sufficient nutrition and other services as required under the scheme and that they did not have any complaint regarding functioning of the centres. They took signatures of particularly those residents who provided the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the local rights group that brought the cases of hunger deaths in the garden into the light, with information about their situation during its fact-finding study.
The BHRPC reported that the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a tea garden owned by a private company based in Kolkata, which employed about 500 permanent and another 1000 casual workers, was abandoned by the owners in October 8, 2011 without paying the workers their outstanding wages and other dues. It resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers and pushed them into the condition of starvation and famine that led to the deaths of ten people till 27 February 2012. According to the fact-finding report[2] issued on 1 February, the workers were deprived of their rights as they were forced to do overwork and were paid very low wages (Rs. 41.00 for casual workers and 50.00 to 55.00 for permanent workers) without being provided with any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages, provident fund and bonus suspended. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, 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 to live with dignity. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor under the government schemes including the ICDS have not properly reached even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.
Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

Even after publication of the disturbing reports, the authorities did not take any effective actions except re-opening of the garden on 9 February 2012 while maintaining that the deaths were not caused by starvation[3]. The situation, therefore, continued to worsen. The BHRPC again on 11 February reported about critical health conditions of 43 other people[4]. Among them two more people died on 18 and 22 February[5]. The chief minister of Assam wrote a letter on 29 February giving details of actions taken by the government while at the same time he still maintained without any proper inquiry that these deaths were not caused by starvation. Actions of the government were, at beast, inadequate and misleadingsaid the BHRPC in a statement[6]As a result, deaths continued unabated in the tea garden and on 10 March the BHRPC had to report two more deaths[7].
On the other hand, after publication of the reports some human rights groups, individual rights defenders and section of national media conducted independent investigations and took up the issue. Among the groups the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a Hongkong based rights body, taking up the case wrote to the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food and issued two hunger alerts world wide[8]. The Varansi (in Uttar Pradesh) based rights group People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) also sent letters to the authorities in India. Another civil society team from Guwahati visited the tea garden on 22 and 23 February. The group was comprised of Saito Basumatary, coordinator of the People’s Rights Forum, Wilfred Topno, president of Adivasi Sahitya Sabha- Assam, Stephen Ekka, director, of the PAJHRA, Godfrey Here, secretary of the Nawa Bihan Samaj and Rejan Horo, organizing secretary, central committee of the AASAA  and issued a statement corroborating the findings of the BHRPC after they made an extensive study of the situation. New Delhi based noted social activist Swami Agnivesh also engaged with the government in dialogue and pressed for the amelioration of the situation[9].
Apart from carrying stories on the situations in the garden by some national media outlets such as Indo-Asian news services, press trust of India and papers like the Asian Age, Times of India and the Telegraph (Kolkata), the CNN-IBN[10] and the Tehelka magazine conducted their own inquiry. The CNN-IBN continuously aired news on the situation and held a talk show while the Tehelka magazine published an in-depth story[11].
Meanwhile, on the complaint of the BHRPC the Supreme Court commissioners on the right to food took cognisance of the matter and asked their Assam state advisor for a report.[12] The national human rights commission also registered cases and started proceedings.[13]
Villagers taking bath in the cannel, the only source of water.

Villagers taking bath in the cannel, the only source of water.

These interventions generated certain amount of heat that was felt by the relevant quarters in New Delhi and Dispur. And reportedly even the prime minister’s office was asked to look into the reports forcing the Assam CM to act[14]. But instead of taking substantial and prompt actions, he ordered an additional chief secretary Mr. PK Choudhury to conduct an inquiry and minister for excise and sports Mr. Ajit Singh to keep vigil on the situation. He held a meeting to discuss their feedback and decide further actions on 11 March. From the reports in the press it seemed that the government was trying to shift the entire blame on the estate management who, according to the chief secretary, was not responding to official communiqués from the deputy commissioner as well as the labour department and “neglecting” the garden[15].  The reports were totally silent about the stand of government on the role of its officers, particularly those who were responsible to ensure that the gardens were run in accordance with law, and those who were responsible for proper implementation of the flagship schemes. However, it is learnt that the CM instructed the officials to cause some ring wells dug in the gardens to make drinking water available for the residents and to take some other ameliorating measures[16].

But the woes of the labourers were far from over. There was complaint that labourers were not getting loans from provident fund to get over their cash crunch as the authorities did not released the fund even though the management had already paid 50% of the arrears of PF through the district administration. Even the PF claims of the dead labourers were also not being cleared. It was also alleged that the Anganwadi centres were not providing food staffs and other services of their mandate, doctors were not available in the estate hospital and problems of drinking water, sanitation and electricity worsened. When the BHRPC drew attention of the district magistrate/deputy commissioner (DM/DC) Mr Harendra Kumar Devmahanta he ordered two separate inquiries into the grievances about functioning of Anganwadi centres and release of PF giving the responsible officers 10 days time. And he said that he was active in ensuring potable water, medical facilities and electricity in the tea estate. A water supply plant will be set up and till it is done water would be supplied daily by tanks. Besides, a doctor from the nearby primary health centre (PHC) would visit the estate hospital once a week, till a permanent doctor was be appointed, he assured.[17] The meeting between the BHRPC members and the DC took place on 30 March and it was attended by two additional DCs, assistant labour commissioner and district social welfare officer. The last mentioned officer is responsible for running ICDS in the district.
The Supreme Court of India directed the central and state governments to universalise the functioning of ICDS and stated that “(t)he universalisation of the ICDS involves extending all ICDS services (Supplementary nutrition, growth monitoring, nutrition and health education, immunization, referral and pre-school education) to every child under the age of 6, all pregnant women and lactating mothers and all adolescent girls”.[18]
The central government formulated a Nutritional and Feeding Norms for SNP[19] in ICDS and it was approved by the Supreme Court.[20] It states that “children in the age group of 6 months to 3 years must be entitled to food supplement of 500 calorie of energy and 12-15 gm of protein per child per day in the form of take home ration (THR). For the age group of 3-6 years, food supplement of 500 calories of energy and 12-15 gm of protein per child must be made available at the Anganwadi Centres in the form of a hot cooked meal and a morning snack. For severely underweight children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years, an additional 300 calories of energy and 8-10 gm of protein would be given as THR. For pregnant and lactating mothers, a food supplement of 600 calories of energy and 18-20 gm of protein per beneficiary per day would be provided as THR”.[21]
It can be shown in a table more conveniently with money ear-marked for each beneficiary in each category:
Category
Rate in rupees per beneficiary per day
Calories
Proteins in gm
Children below 6 years
4.00
500
12-15
Severely malnourished children
6.00
800
20-25
Pregnant and lactating mothers
5.00
600
18-20
Table-I[22]
Rs. 4.00 is ear-marked for every adolescent girl per day.
It is another question as to whether this money can still buy that much calories and proteins even after three years of severe food inflation from the time of approval of the Supreme Court and particularly in this part of the country which is known for high prices of food stuffs.
As per the Supreme Court rulings, this nutritional support shall be provided 300 days in a year by providing for 25 days per month.
Now, let us take a look on how all these get translated in the ground in the form of actual dietary intake by the beneficiaries. A famous(!) statement of the then Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi may be remembered that only Re. 0.15 would reach the actual beneficiary from Re. 1.00 meant for the poor and the remaining Re. 0.85 would get siphoned off by those who were entrusted with the task of reaching the beneficiaries with the benefit of the money. Still the situation is same if not worse. The BHRPC team were told during their fact-finding study visit on 27 February by the residents of the Bhuvan valley that there were 7 Anganwadi centres in the garden but none of them were properly functioning. They were opened only once or twice in a month. It indicates that the children and women of the tea garden were receiving about 0.01 per cent of the money allotted for their nutritional support and some health services. The situation has certainly improved since.
But how much improved? A typically ‘well-functioning’ Anganwadi centre in Cachar district gets approximately Rs. 1,200.00 per month. The break-up may be shown in a table:
Category
Total number. of beneficiary
Rs. per head per day
Total amount per category per day
Children below 6 years
50
4.00
200.00
Severely malnourished children
Nil
6.00
Nil
Adolescent girls
38
4.00
152.00
Pregnant and lactating mothers
22
5.00
110.00
Total
—–
——
462.00
Table-II[23]
Bablu Bauri lying in his courtyard. His father Atul Bauri died of hunger recently.

Bablu Bauri lying in his courtyard. His father died of hunger recently.

For one month the amount stands at Rs. 462.00 x 25 days = Rs. 11550.00, say 12000.00. When this scribe talked with the worker of such a typical centre she confided with the condition of anonymity that Rs 3000.00 is taken away by the supervisor apparently for himself/herself, child development project officer (CDPO), the district social welfare officer and other higher-ups, Rs. 1000.00 by the president of the centre management committee and another Rs. 1000.00 by the member secretary of the committee and Rs. 500.00 by each worker and helper from this 12000.00 and the remaining Rs. 6000.00 is spent on the beneficiaries.

The worker of a centre is ex-officio member-secretary of the centre management committee and in most cases her husband or any other member of her family or any relative is the president, though the rule book says the president should be the member of the Gaon Panchayat elected from the area covered by the centre.
If the 7 Anganwadi centres in the Bhuvan valley tea garden function as per rules in the book apparently a worker will incur a loss of Rs. 1500.00 (1000.00 as member secretary and 500.00 as worker), president Rs. 1000.00 and helper Rs. 500.00 of their ‘extra-money’ per month. But it is not important for them that this ‘sacrifice of extra-money’ can go a long way to save some precious human lives. So, they coerced the labourers and other villagers to sign a paper stating that the beneficiaries were being provided with sufficient nutrition and other services as required under the scheme and that they did not have any grievances regarding functioning of the centres.
The presence of the district social welfare officer in the meeting of 29 March and he being ordered to submit a report within 10 days about the complaint regarding function of the ICDC, and the incident of taking forcible signature of the Bhuvan valley residents on the very next day can not be a mere co-incidence.
It is a very sorry and sad commentary on the sense of responsibility as well as humanity of some of the officers and public servants who govern the people and implement the government policies, laws duly passed by legislative bodies and orders made by law courts.
It also shows that the Assam government has not only failed to protect the right to life with dignity of the tea workers in the Bhuvan valley by ensuring availability of adequate food, water, sanitation and health care but it is now also  taking away right to make noise, yell, cry and weep at the time of dying from hunger.

[1] The writer is a human rights defender based in Guwahati, Assam can be reached at wali.laskar@gmail.com

[2] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Tea labourers die of starvation due to exploitation of garden management and government apathy in Assam.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 1 February 2012 <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1/>

[3] “Bhuvan Valley: no hunger deaths.“ Sakalbela 18 February 2012 Silchar ed. Print.
[4] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 11 February 2012 <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/>
[5] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Two more people died in Assam tea garden.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 23 February 2012 <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/>
[6] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Assam government’s actions regarding starvation deaths are inadequate and misleading.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 3 March 2012 < https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/assam-governments-actions-in-starvation-deaths-are-inadequate-and-misleading/>
[7] Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). “Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden.” Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 2012. Web. 10 March 2012   <https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/hungeralert4//>
[8] (a) Asian Human Rights Commission—Hunger Alert Programme. “INDIA: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths.” Asian Human Rights Commission, 2012. Web. 7 February 2012  <http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012/AHRC-HAC-002-201>
    (b) Asian Human Rights Commission—Hunger Alert Programme. “INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility.” Asian Human Rights Commission, 2012. Web. 27 February 2012  < http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012>
[9] “Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths.” The Sentinel. Web. 5 February 2012 Silchar ed.  <http://www.sentinelassam.com/cachar/story.php?sec=2&subsec=12&id=105944&dtP=2012-02-05&ppr=1>
[10]  Sen, Arijit. “Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea”. IBNLive. Web. 21 February 2012. < http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arijitsen/148/63192/stay-hungry-the-story-behind-assam-tea.html>
[11]  Choudhury, Ratnadip. “Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley.” Tehelka 25 February: 10-11. Print.
[12]  “SC Commissioners take note of starvation deaths.” The Assam Tribune. Web. 2 March 2012 Guwahati ed.  <http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=mar0212/state07>
[13] NHRC Case No.  51/3/2/2012
[14]  “Dispur rap on garden for deaths” The Telegraph. Web. March 2012 Kolkata ed. <http://vv.telegraphindia.com/1120314/jsp/northeast/story_15246290.jsp>
[15] Ibid
[16] “Government will run the garden in case owners unable: Gogoi.” Dainik Samayik Prasanga 14 March  2012 Silchar ed. Print.
[17] Roy, Sipra. “Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF.” The Seven Sisters Post. Web. 1 April Guwahati ed. <http://sevensisterspost.com/?p=1944# >
[18] People’s Union for Civil Liberties Vs. Union of India and Others (Writ Petition (civil) 196 of 2001); date of Judgement: 13/12/2006 in IA Nos. 34, 35, 40, 49, 58, 59, 60, 61 and 62
[19] SNP stand for Supplementary Nutrition Programme.
[20] People’s Union for Civil Liberties Vs. Union of India and Others (Writ Petition (civil) 196 of 2001); Date of Judgement: April 22, 2009
[21] Ibid
[22] Ibid
[23]  It is a hypothetical table based on survey of several Anganwadi centres and meant to show break-up of a typical centre in Cachar district. It needs to be noted that they don’t maintain list of severely malnourished or underweight children.