Posts Tagged ‘Barak’

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

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Assam: Consultation held on human rights situation in Barak valley

December 16, 2012

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) organised a local consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley in Silchar (Assam) as part of celebration of 64th international human rights day. The programme started on 1:30 P.M. in the hall of Madhyasahar Sanskritik Samiti. Lawyers, journalists, academics, social activists as well as human rights defenders from different parts of the valley participated the deliberation upon 5 selected topics.

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

The presentation of a topic by an expert followed by threadbare and in-depth discussion of different angle. Efforts were made to understand the situation and find out ways to deal with it effectively. Mr. Nirmal Bin, a tea garden labourer of Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, elaborated the human rights situation in the tea gardens with particular reference to the situation in Bhuvan Valley. He stated that labourers are suffering from inadequacy of livelihood support in terms of wages and other benefit due to the under the law. The various facilities provided by the schemes like Integrated Child Development Scheme, National Rural Health Mission etc are just for namesake. He also added that labourers are unable to get the benefits of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and therefore, the whole situation is horrible in the Estate. Mr. Sujit Das, a social activist working in the tea garden, added that various exploitative systems prevail in garden and hence in every tea garden situation is more or less the same. Scial activist Mr Nirmal Kumar Das, journalsit Mr. Pijush Kanti Das and others took part in deliberation on the situation of human rights in tea gardens. Mr. Pujus Kanti Das claimed that the Plantation Labour Act is itself very defective and implementation of its provisions is conspicuously absent. He said that out of 106 gardens in Barak valley 97 are active, and only 7 active gardens have engaged Labour Officers. He also added that the welfare Officers in the garden are working as Asstt. Manager in many gardens. In this situation how we can expect the overall welfare of the gardens?

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Mr. Sahidul Hoque Laskar, General Secretary of Kishan Bikash Samiti, a voluntary organisation working in rural areas in Cachar district, initiated discussions on the rules and regulation of the ICDS with a brief presentation on the situation where he indicated how much violations of rights is going on by breaching the rules and regulation of the ICDS project. He said that the social welfare department of Assam government is a dead department. He presented data relating to Banskandi Development Block area that shows how the officials and their non-official collaborators are making huge money. As an example he cited the discrepency in population data in the area. According to him, they manufactured in the papers approximately 50,000 (fifty thousand) fake population through overlapping population under Banskandi, Lakhipur and Rajabazar ICDS projects. He also claimed that the Mid Day Meal of the students in most cases is not distributed properly in the valley. He further said that the officers are violating the Right to Information Act by not providing information sought by him. Participation in the discussions, Mr. Sabbir Ahmed Choudhury, a professor at MCD College, Sonai advised for filing suit in appropriate court. Mr. Mrinal Kanti Shome, Mr Jishnu Dutta of SAFE, Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das and others also participated in the discussion. They pointed out various provisions of ICDS such as nutrition of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating mothers and remarked that nowhere in Barak valley the same is provided to the beneficiaries. They also cited various examples of forming fake committees who are supposed to supervise the distributing system.

Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das, Secretary, Asom Majuri Sramik Union, initiated discussions on MGNREGS. He said that various provisions like drinking water, rest shed, crèche for children are not provided in this valley. He added that the schemes are implemented without convening Gaon Sobhas properly. Mr Mrinal Kanti Shome, Mr. Sahidul Hoque Laskar and many others supplemented his presentation. Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder of BHRPC said that the attitude and consciousness level of labourers should also be developed through awareness campaign. The participants blamed the officers for their negligence on monitoring.

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Mr. Mrinal Kanti Shome, Cachar district secretary of Asom Mojuri Sramik Union spoke on the Public Distribution System (PDS). He contented that the people are divided into various strata by the various schemes. He told that there are many fake ration cards issued in Barak Valley. He also added that on the one side, 5,12,000 people are starving and on other side crores of tonnes of undistributed food grains are rotting. Mr Partha Pratim Paul, professor in the Department of Law, Assam University added that the implementation of various government schemes is necessary. He also stated that the distribution of food grains in Tea Estates are not done properly due to lack of awareness. Mr. Pijush Kanti Das, Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das, Dilip Kumar Singh, Sabir Ahmed Choudhury and others also participated in the discussion. The issue of looting and black marketeering of Kerosine Oil, Iodised salt and other materials which are shiponed off the market were also discussed.

Before lunch break Bengali version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was distributed among the participants. After lunch the consultation started again.

Ms Rumi Dhar, professor of Law Department, Assam University spoke on domestic violence and sexual harassment at work place. She discussed various aspects of the legal provisions including 498A of IPC, Vishaka guidelines etc. Mr. Jishnu Dutta, Mr. Sibajyoti Choudhury, Advocate, District Bar Association, Silchar and other focused on the misuse of the section of 498A and spoke for the protection of the male victims. On this a heated argument broke out. Ms Tania Laskar, student of law, Assam University, Nasim Aktar Mazumder, a teacher of JNV, vehemently opposed the view. Mr Imad Uddin Bulbul, advocate and many others took active part in this arguments. Mr Neharul Ahmed Mazumder intervened and said that misuse of law is not entirely confined to 498A, other sections like 302, 379 etc. are also misused by police. It is primarily because police are responsible for investigation. The abuse of this section is largely due to this fact and not entirely for any flaws in the wording of the law. Mr. Sadique Mahammed Laskar, joint secretary, BHRPC also commented. He opined that every where the misuse of legal provisions are occurring and the main reasons is the attitude of the implementing authorities, lack of awareness among the victims and the long history of victimisation of the female members of the society. He added that though the North East Indian region has a different social system, still in traditions, customs and other social practices there are plenty of examples of victimisation of the women.

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Consultation on human rights situation in Barak valley on 10 December, 2012

Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, the Secretary General of BHRPC spoke on human rights violations by police and armed forces. He pointed out the various important provisions of the case of Prakash Singh & others Vs. Union of India and others which is also known as police reform case. He also added how Assam passed the Police Act, 2007 by bypassing and also defeating the Suppreme Court’s directions in the police reform case. He pointed out the loopholes of the Assam Police Act, 2007. He added that in Assam Police are not accountable to law but they are accountable to politicians. He suggested that the Assam Police Act, 2007 must be re-framed as per guidelines of the case of Prakash Singh and others Vs. Union of India and others. He further demanded that the draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) must be repeal. This kind of inhuman law is prevailing in Barak valley even against the logic of the state. According to him the area is by no means a disturbed area in any meaning of the term. Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das, Mr. Herajit Singha and others cited various cases of fake encounters, arbitrary detention, torture by state police and the armed forces of the union of India in Barak valley. The renowned human rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila’s name came to fore and her epic struggle is cited a source of inspiration for human rights defenders to fight against the human rights violations in the name of state security that negates the human security.

In the last segment, Mr. Sadique Mohammed Laskar presented an overview of the discussion and Advocate Mr Imad Uddin Bulbul and Mr. Abid Raja Mazumder, Ex-Principal of Nehru College, Pailapool also spoke. After the vote of thanks the consultation ended.

Neharul Ahmed Mazumder

Secretary General

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee

Silchar, Assam.

Dated 12 December, 2012

Custodial death of Ajijur Rahman and the situation that led to his death

July 19, 2012

BHRPC report on efforts of effecting communal division, riots and custodial death in the aftermath of “conversion and second marriage” of Dr Rumee Nath

An aged person named Mr Ajijur Rahman was picked up from his residence at Kalain under the Katigorah police station in the district of Cachar (Assam) by a raiding police team led by Mr Y T Gyatsu, a probationary Indian Police Service (IPS) officer posted as Additional Superintendent of Police at the Cachar police headquarters at Silchar in the night between 6 and 7 July 2012 and was tortured to death in the lock-up of Kalain police patrol post.

The police team was conducting raids to arrest some persons who were accused or suspects of creating mischief and rioting on and after 4 July in Kalain area. The law and order situation of the area deteriorated due to a call of general strike by the Hindu Jagaran Mancha in protest against alleged police harassment of youths belonging to their community who were suspected of being parts of the mob that assaulted Dr. Rumee Nath and her ‘husband’ on 29 June at Karimganj for her ‘conversion and marriage’ with the Muslim boy. The Mancha was also reportedly protesting against the protests of the supporters of Dr. Nath.

The report:

After the incident the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) formed a fact finding team comprising of 1. Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, 2. Mr Sadique Mohammed Laskar, 3. Mr Raju Barbhuiya, 4. Mr Nirmal Kumar Das, 5. Mr Aftabur Rahman Laskar, 6. Ms S Sarmila Singha and 7. Mr Abdul Wakil Choudhury to find out the factors and the situation that led to the death of Ajijur Rahman. The team visited Kalain area on 14 July and met family members and relatives of the victim, victims of rioting and their family and relatives and respectable citizens of the area including president, secretary and members of Kalain Bazaar committee Mr Sukhendu Kar, Mr Karunamoy Dey, Mr Asit Baran Deb and others. The fact finding team also visited the Kalain police patrol post and talked with the officer-in-charge Sub-Inspector of police Mr Anowar Hussain Choudhury and some constables. This report is based on the information collected by the team.

The victim:

The victim Mr Ajijur Rahman was aged about 60 years and a permanent resident of village Boroitoli Part-I, Kalain under Katigorah police station and was respected as a senior local businessman. The place, where his house situates, borders with three villages of Boroitoli, Brahmangram and Lakhipur. He was the head of his family which comprised of his 5 sons Mr Fariz Uddin (aged 42), Mr Sarif Uddin (39), Mr Selim Uddin (30), Mr Nazim Uddin (26), and Mr Mahim Uddin (20), 4 daughters Ms Anowara Begum (32), Ms Monowara Begum (aged 24 and unmarried), Ms Reena Begum  (aged 18 and unmarried), Ms Runa Begum  (aged 15 and unmarried), his wife Ms Saleha Khatun (55) his mother aged about 80 years and the children of his sons. It is a big joint family of people of three generations living together. It appeared that the family belongs to the emergent lower middle class of Bengali Muslims in Barak valley (South Assam).

 

Place:

Kalain is situated at a distance of about 40 kilometres from Silchar towards west and is a growing semi-urban area serving as a local business centre for the entire West Cachar region. The population of Bengali speaking Hinuds and Muslims are almost equal in number. Hindus have been living mostly nearby the market. Beside these two religious communities, some other people belonging to Manipuri, Bishnupria and Hindi speaking communities are also living in the outskirts. According to the local residents, people of Kalian belonging to different communities have been living harmoniously and in peace and love with each other for times immemorial. However, there were small quarrels and even fighting at times between people belonging to different communities but they were of personal nature and the religions of the parties have had nothing to with them.

Incident:

A huge police team led by Mr Y T Gyatsu raided the house of Mr Ajijur Rahman at about 12.30 in the night intervening between 6 and 7 July. They first cordoned off the house from all sides and then knocked at the doors. The inmates of the house were fast asleep. At the sound of heavy knocks Mr Ajijur Rahman got up and opened the door. A big number of police personnel including a lady constable remained outside the house and four/five of them including Mr Gyatsu went into the house. They asked for Mr Nazim Uddin who was not home at that time. In fact, no other male members of the family were present in the house since they were in hiding. The able male members of all families of the area were hiding themselves in apprehension of indiscriminate arrest and harassment by police in the wake of the rioting. As an aged person Mr Rahman did not feel the need to hide himself.

The police team made all female members to go out of the house and they conducted a search for Mr Nazim Uddin in all rooms including kitchen and bathrooms in vain. They demanded of Mr Ajijur Rahman to tell them the whereabouts of his son or they would send him in jail in place of his son. When he pleaded ignorance of whereabouts of his son Mr Gyatsu hurled a torrent of verbal abuse and started assaulting him. He demanded that Mr Rahman would have to take his son to the police patrol post before 6am. Mr Rahman told that he would not be able to do so since he did not know where his son is and latter’s mobile phone was also off. At that Mr Gyatsu started boxing his ears and the back of his head while dragging him. Member of the raiding police team constable Mr Badrul Islam Barbhuiya, Ms Reena Begum, daughter of Mr Rahman and other eye witnesses told the BHRPC team that Mr Gyatsu did not let the old man to wear even a top under garment. The old man cried and pleaded with Mr Gyatsu not to take him to the police station as he was to go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for Haj pilgrimage. His wife and daughters also wept uncontrolably and urged the police officers to spare the old man at least for the sake of God since he did not know anything about incidents of 4 July. These beseeching of the helpless was not heeded.

Mr. Mahibur Rahman[1], a neighbour and cousin of Mr Ajijur Rahmn, told the BHRPC team that when he heard of the cries of wife and daughters of the latter he went there and saw that the police was taking him with them. He then sneaked to house of other neighbours Mr. Taj Uddin[2] and Mr. Shahid Uddin[3] and awakened them. They were to move silently since they were themselves very afraid of the police and a prohibitory order under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 was also in force. Three of them stood at the front side of a house[4] at a distance of about 20 metres from the patrol post to witness what was happening to the old man there. According to them, from that place everything was clearly visible since the doors and windows of the patrol post house were wide open and electric lights were on. They stated that they saw Mr Ajijur Rahman was seated on a red plastic chair. They inferred from the gestures of the police personnel and Mr Rahman that they were talking. Then two personnel coming from two sides kept his thighs in tight grip in a way that rendered Mr Rahman unable to move. And then another police personnel dressed like a higher officer and in his facial and physical features resembling to a tribal man came and placing his one grip at the chin and another on the head twisted the head of Mr Ajijur Rahman with tremendous force. It seemed that the body of Mr Rahman became motionless and loose and his head leaned at the side at which his head was left by the officer. This is also corroborated by Mr Taj Uddin and Mr Shahid Uddin.

According to the police personnel posted at the Kalain patrol post with whom the BHRPC team talked, there were two police officers there at the time who more or less look like tribals. One is Mr Y T Gaytsu and another is Mr L Saikia, the Deputy Superintendent of Police. It appears that the person who twisted the head of Mr Ajijur Rahman is either Mr Gyatsu or Mr Saikia.

According to the above mentioned eye witnesses, after the assault of the officer all people in the patrol post got agitated and a hullabaloo ensued. Two personnel lifted Mr Ajijur Rahman as if they were lifting a dead body and put him in a vehicle which then went away. It was at about 2am.

Mr. Mahibur Rahman further stated that a certain person named Mr AJijur Rahman Khan called him up on his cell phone and informed that a person of his name from Boroitoli was brought to the Kalain Community Health Centre and the physician in-charge of the hospital Dr Sumon Bhomik advised to take him to the Silchar Medical College and Hospital as he could not feel his pulse. Circumstances strongly indicate that Mr Ajijur Rahman  was brought dead and he died due to twisting of his head.

After that the family, relatives and neighbours of Mr Ajijur Rahman tried to find out what happened to him during the remainder of the night and in the morning some of them went to the SMCH and came to know about the death of Mr Rahman with help from local member of Assam Legislative Assembly Mr Ataur Rahman Mazarbhuiya. Autopsy of the body was conducted at the SMCH on 7 July and was handed over to the relatives of the deceased. After performing last rites Mr. Ajijur Rahman was laid to rest on the next day.

The local people were concerned that the post mortem report might not reflect the true causes of death and material facts might be suppressed since the autopsy in India is conducted in a very unscientific, legally improper and unreliable way. Usually someone engaged in manual scavenging cuts the body at the direction of a surgeon who stands at a safe distance and looks at the body from there. The surgeon does not touch the body or examine it otherwise. From that distance he makes a guess and writes down the cause of death based on the guess. In cases of custodial deaths the body remains under the custody and absolute control of the police since before the death until the autopsy report is prepared.

Observing such appalling conditions of autopsy procedure the National Human Rights Commission of India issued guidelines to the states as well as the central government calling for their immediate action to address the lack of transparency while dealing with deaths in custody. The Commission recommended video recording of the inquest as well as the post-mortem of the victim. The Commission has even recommended using a standardised ‘post-mortem examination report form’ by the forensic surgeons. These recommendations however have not been implemented in India in their letter and spirit. Sometimes the procedures may be recorded but the report is not prepared as per the recommended guidelines.

Sharing the concerns of the local people the BHRPC instantaneously on 7 July wrote a letter to the District Magistrate, Superintendent of Police and Superintendent of the SMCH enclosing the NHRC guidelines and urging them to conduct the autopsy as per the guidelines.

The DM also ordered an inquiry into the incident of death to be conducted an executive magistrate. People are of the opinion that it is nothing but an attempt to cover up the case and save the guilty officers and personnel. Executive magistrates are not independent judicial authorities. They are servants of the government and exercise quasi-judicial powers. They usually do not record evidence before the other parties and give parties opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses of the other party in violations of universally recognised rules of judicial procedure. There are reasons, therefore, to believe that their inquiry may not be objective and impartial.

The Parliament of India keeping in view of the lacunae in law regarding inquiry into the deaths in police custody incorporated a subsection (1A) in section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 by section 18 (ii) of the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2005 providing for an inquiry by a judicial magistrate in addition to the inquiry or investigation held by the police. Although the BHRPC reminded the DM of this mandatory provision it was ignored.

The widow of late Ajijur Rahman filed a complaint at the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Cachar on 7 July 2012 under section 302, 506 and 34 of the IPC against Mr Y T Gyatsu and other police personnel. The complaint was sent to the Katigorah Police Station for registration and investigation. It was registered and assigned a case number vide Katigorah PS Case No. 291/12. The Officer-in-Charge of the police station entrusted a Sub-Inspector of police with the task of investigation. There are reasons to suspect the objectivity and impartiality of the investigation officer because he is working under the very persons who have been named as accused in the case.

Background:

As mentioned above, the police team that picked up Mr Ajijur Rahman was conducting raids to arrest some persons who were accused or suspects of creating mischief and rioting on and after 4 July in Kalain area. The law and order situation of the area deteriorated due to a call of general strike by the Hindu Jagaran Mancha in protest against alleged police harassment of youths belonging to their community who were suspected of being parts of the mob that assaulted and brutally beaten up Dr. Rumee Nath and her ‘husband’ on 29 June at Karimganj for her ‘conversion and marriage’ with the Muslim boy. The Mancha was also reportedly protesting against the protests of the supporters of Dr. Nath.

After the call of “bandh” (strike) on 4 July was given by the Mancha some groups in different areas of Barak valley issued a counter call to the people not to observe the bandh because, according to them, frequent strikes are harmful for the business and economy. These groups are thought to be the supporters of Dr Nath. In the morning of 4 July activists of the Mancha went to different parts of the valley to enforce the strike. One of such groups came to Kalain bazaar where they faced resistance from others who wanted the market to function normally.

The bazaar committee, a committee of shop keepers having shops at Kalain, intervened and a tripartite meeting was held among the opposers and supporters of bandh and the committee. The committee offered a compromise proposal after talk with both the parties that the shops could remain closed till 12 noon and then the shops could be opened. Though there were indications of acceptance by both the parties but it could not be finalised as some people of both the parties were adamant in their stands. The members of the committee went to their homes giving up hope of any settlement.

According to the information gathered by the BHRPC, after break down of talks when supporters of the bandh were trying to enforce it forcibly the police raised a barricade and kept most of them outside the barricade. However, they were trying to break the barricade unsuccessfully. With times the situation became very tense. At about 11.30am a mob of Muslim youths came with bamboo sticks and attacked anyone belonging to Hindu communities including shop-keepers and members of the bazaar committee. To face the attack many youths of Hindu communities also came out with sticks. A fight between the communities ensued. Stones were pelted from both sides. Some cycles and motor cycles were burnt down. About 18 people were wounded. They were 1. Mr Sunil Mandal, 2. Mr Sushil Deb, 3. Mr Sumon Deb, 4. Mr Pronit Deb, 5. Mr Sukhendu Kar, 6. Mr Jamal Uddin, 7. Mr Deepak Podder, 8. Mr Titu Baishnob, 9. Mr Buddha Deb Roy, 10. Mr Manna Deb, 11. Mr Sumit Shulkabaidhya, 12. Mr Badrul Islam Barbhuiya, 13. Mr Ranjit Deb, 14. Mr Khalil Uddin, 15, Mr Moin Uddin, 16. Mr Kamrul Haque, 17. Mr Debabrata Paul, 18. Mr Monsur Uddin and others. First six persons sustained serious injuries. Three reporters who went there to cover the situation were also caught in the fight between two communities and received injuries.

According to the local people, had the administration handled it efficiently the situation could be brought under control and the fighting and resulting injuries could have been averted. Executive magistrate Ms Khaleda Sultana Ahmed, DSP (probationary) Mr Iftikar Ali and in-charge of Kalain police patrol post Mr Anowar Hussain Choudhury were present. They failed to handle the mob frenzy. People felt they could take measures including lathi charge and tear gas fire. These measures could disperse the mob. Due to the inability of the authorities to take decisions the fighting intensified.

Towards the evening Additional District Magistrate Mr Borenya Das went to Kalain with a force of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and ordered the police to charge the mob with sticks and fire of tear gas. The mob then got dispersed. The district administration then issued a prohibitory order under section 144 of the CrPC. The situation slowly came under control.

The police registered cases against many named and unnamed suspects who were accused of involvement in fighting on 4 July and started conducting raids of the houses of the people living there to arrest the suspects. It was one of such raids during which Mr Ajijur Rahman was picked up by the police and tortured him to death.

Controversy over ‘conversion and marriage’:

Apart from the mob hysteria that drove the mobs of both communities at that moment, this communal clash resulted from efforts of communalisation of ‘conversion and second marriage’ of Dr. Rumee Nath, encouragement and provocation of youths by a minister of Assam government to take law in their hands and beat up anyone who enters into inter-religious marriage.

Dr. Nath is a Member of Legislative Assembly of Assam (MLA) elected from Borkhola constituency in Cachar district holding ticket from the Congress party. She was earlier also elected from the same constituency as a candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from which she later defected. She has been married with Mr. Rakesh Singh of Lucknow of Uttar Pradesh and from him she has a girl child who is about 2 years old. It was reported that their matrimonial relation has not been going well for some months.

In the month of April she reportedly got ‘converted into Islamic religion’ and ‘married’ one Jakir Hussain (also known as Jakey) of Badarpur under Karimganj district apparently as per Islamic rules. However, it is reported that the ‘conversion and marriage’ took place in the same sitting. Many Muslim clerics maintained that the marriage was invalid for it was solemnised before observing iddat period of three months and therefore her first marriage was subsisting. Validity of her conversion was also under question mark as it was tainted with motives that were not entirely pious. Most intellectuals of the valley also did not take her ‘conversion and second marriage’ pleasantly. According to them, her actions were immature, improper and not befitting of a public figure.

Her first husband filed a case against her and her ‘second husband’ under section 494, 497, 498 and others of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 accusing her of bigamy, (accusing her second husband of) adultery, enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a married woman. She also filed case against her first husband alleging domestic violence.

The BHRPC maintained that right to get converted into any religion is a part of the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of the constitution of India. Per se inter-religious and inter-caste marriages are also recognised by the Special Marriage Act, 1955 and such marriage should be encouraged as they can promote harmonious communal co-existence and secularism. However, in case of Dr. Nath the things are a little different. She was a married woman with a two years old child. Bigamy or living with another person as man and wife during the subsistence of earlier marriage prima facie amount to offence against the institution of marriage. Abandoning a 2 year old child is cruelty on the child and violation of child rights. These grievances against her could be legitimately vented through legal means and judicial process and which was what her first husband resorted to.

However, some groups including the Hindu Jagaran Mancha exerted themselves to blow it out of all proportion. They conjured up spectre of ‘love jihad’ and started campaign against inter-religious and inter-caste marriages, friendship between girls and boys belonging to different communities and even resorted to vigilantism by raiding parks, restaurants and other public places in search of inter-religious couples and friends and beating them up. Ostensibly this group received encouragement from political leaders who were interested in diving people in religious lines and diverting the attention of the people from the real issues of starvation deaths, corruption, miserable conditions of rural and urban roads and the national highways, human rights violations by police and armed forces etc.

A very influential politician of the ruling congress party in Assam Mr Gautom Roy, Minister for Public Health and Engineering (PHE), at a public function organised to mark 3 years of Assam government issued a call to the public to beat up any boy who marries a girl from a different community and to hand over the girl to her guardians. Provoked and encouraged by this call a mob of more than one hundred youths attacked Dr Nath and her ‘second husband’ at about 10pm on 29 June 2012 at Hotel Nakshatra in Karimganj where she was staying for the night after visiting her constituency. Both of them were brutally assaulted, and according to her, attempts were also made to rape her. After hours a police team rescued them in serious conditions. They were rushed to Guwahati for treatment.

The BHRPC could not confirm any direct links of the minister with the attack on Dr Nath and the mob that attacked her. But it is obvious that his call to beat up such couples definitely encouraged the mob. The comment of the minister is not only against the established constitutional canons of the land and principles of human rights but also a provocation to breach the public order and a call towards further lawlessness and jungle raj. Any person including a minister may disagree with any law and in such cases he should propose repeal or amendment of the law if he is sincere in his opinions. A minister who is part of the party that rules at the central and state governments should have proposed amendment of Article 14, 21 and 25 of the constitution and the Special Marriage Act, 1955 if he sincerely thought that conversion and inter-religious marriages are undesirable. By provoking youths he betrayed his motives.

The attack on Dr Nath is a manifestation of desperate reactions of patriarchy and its interests against the empowerment of women and empowered women. These are attacks on expression of moral agency in women. She was abused and attacked only because she was a woman.

Conclusion:

It is found that Mr Ajijur Rahman was the latest victim of inhumanity and brutality of the police which they sometimes without any rhymes and reasons unleash on the very people for whose protection they are being paid. His son Mr Nazim Uddin might be an accused or suspect and his arrest might also be necessary in the situation. But it is absolutely illegal to take his father into custody to be used as bait for the son. Moreover, the torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to which he was subjected and which allegedly caused his death are not only illegal but also inhuman and barbarous.

It is also found that groups of people who have vested interest in communal divisions among the people created controversy around ‘conversion and second marriage’ of Dr Rumee Nath and engaged in a communal campaign. It polarised some people in religious lines and created tensions in Barak valley.

Provocative and ant-constitutional statement of Minister Gautom Roy encouraged the mob of the male dominated society to attack Dr Nath, a woman who represents more than 1 million people in the law-making body of the state and her ‘second husband’.

The alleged police harassment of youths and inefficient investigation of the attack case and efforts of forcible enforcement of strikes led to the fighting between the communities at Kalain; communal mass hysteria of some Muslims youths of Kalain and inefficient handling of the situation by the  authorities present there led to the fighting between the communities resulting in injuries of many innocent people; insensitivity to human rights of the people and reliance on illegal means and torture during investigation by the police resulted in the death of Mr Ajijur Rahman.

Recommendations:

The BHRPC recommends to the authorities including the Central government of India and government of Assam to take following actions:

To the Government of Assam:

  1. To conduct a prompt and objective judicial inquiry into the death of Ajijur Rahman and the circumstances that led to his death;
  1. To cause the investigation of the case of custodial death of Mr Ajijur Rahman to be conducted by a team led by an officer of the rank of Superintendent of Police of the Crime Investigation Department of Assam police;
  1. To pay an ex-gratia of an adequate amount to the next of kin of Mr Ajijur Rahman;
  1. To hand over the investigation of mob attack on Dr Rumee Nath to the Central Bureau of Investigation of Delhi Police as name of a minister of Assam government is involved in the incident;
  1. To amend the Assam Police Act, 2007 to bring it in conformity with the directions of the Supreme Court of India in Prakash Singh and others Vs. Union of India and others case;
  1. To separate investigation wing and maintenance of law and order wing of Assam police completely;
  1. To train the officers and other personnel of Assam police in following human rights laws while tackling riots and dealing with mobs; and
  1. To take any other actions needed for protection of human rights of the people.

To the Central Government of India:

  1. To ensure a prompt and impartial inquiry by a judicial authority into the death of Ajijur Rahman, communal fighting and mob attack on Dr. Rumee Nath;
  1. To ensure that the investigation of the case of custodial death of Mr Ajijur Rahman is conducted by a team led by an officer of rank of Superintendent of Police of the Crime Investigation Department of Assam police;
  1. To ensure  payment of ex-gratia of an adequate amount to the next of kin of Mr Ajijur Rahman;
  1. To ensure the investigation of mob attack on Dr Rumee Nath to the Central Bureau of Investigation of Delhi Police as name of a minister of Assam government is involved in the incident;
  1. To repeal the colonial Police Act of 1861 and enact a police act as per directions of the Supreme Court of India issued in Prakash Singh and others Vs. Union of India and others case;
  1. To enact the Communal Violence Bill after further consultation with the civil society;
  1. To enact the Prevention of Torture Bill after further consultation with civil society;
  1. To enact a law providing for adequate reparation and rehabilitation of the victims of human rights violations by the state agencies and their families after consultation with the civil society; and
  1. To take any other appropriate actions required for protection of human rights of the people.

For any clarification and more information please contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Director, Legal Affairs

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC)

Cell: +919401942234

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com


[1] Mr. Mahibur Rahman, aged about 50, son of Haji Haroos Ali, resident of Lakhipur Part-I, Kalain, Katigorah, Cachar.

[2] Mr. Taj Uddin, aged about 44, son of late Abdul Barik of Boroitoli Part-I

[3] Mr Shahid Uddin,  aged about 25, son of late Abdul Wahab Barbhiuya of Brahmangram.

[4] The house belongs to one Mr Mainul Haque. They did not awake him lest the police know about any movements.

 

 

 

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

Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

April 27, 2012

A civil society group comprising of several non-government organisation presented report of their study on the starvation deaths of workers in the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Assam on 25 February 2012 before media in Guwahati that corroborated reports of the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) The Guwahati based civil society group further claimed that “twelve people have died due to starvation and the condition of 45 other labourers is still serious in the Bhuban Valley tea estate. The management decided to close down the estate Oct 11, 2011 and it led to starvation as the labourers have no other option to earn their livelihood.”

The preliminary report that they have issued is posted here.

CIVIL SOCIETY INQUIRY REPORT OFBHUBANVALLEYTEA ESTATE DEATHS

CACHAR:ASSAM

PRESS RELEASE

Introduction

Till now 11 persons have died since the tea garden was locked on 11 October 2011. The news of the death of 10 people in Bhuban valley Tea Estate in Cachar district had appeared in the electronic and print media. In order to understand the ground reality and in order to verify the cause of the death, a team consisting of members from civil society visited the site on 22 and 23 February 2012. Saito Basumatary, coordinator of People’s Rights Forum, Wilfred Topno, President, Adivasi Sahitya Sabha-Assam, Stephen Ekka , Director, PAJHRA, Godfrey Here, Secretary, Nawa Bihan Samaj and Rejan Horo, organizing secretary, central Committee AASAA made an extensive study of the situation.

The team visited the families of the victims, interacted with the members , met the garden assistant manger, panchayat members, health department and labour department. It interviewed the people concerned and collected relevant data. It met the members of other activist groups like – BHRPC (Barak Human Rights Protection Committee), Monierekhal Tea Estate Youth Club and Seva Kendra .  It discussed  individually and with the groups on the issue of the death of workers during the lock out period.

Bhuban Valley Tea Estate is situated about 50 km away from Silchar and falls under Motinagar Police station in Lakhipur constituency. On 14 January 2012 Sentinel news paper had carried the news of death of 10 workers from the tea garden. Thereafter it also appeared in the electronic media. The tea garden has 900 ha of land with tea plantation and labour hamlets.  According to its register 480 permanent members  and  some 500 temporary labours work in the tea plantation. The total population of the tea  plantation is about 2000.

  • Name & Adress :BhubanValleytea Garden, P.O. Motinagar        Dist: Kachar
  • Tea Garden owner : Ghanasham Sarda, Mr.Basant Barua (Director)
  • Population:  2000,House hold around 1000 Permanent Labour:  480 including sub-staff.
  • There are three division of Bhuban Valley TE, 1.Moti Nagar Division, 2. Chaigur Division, 3. North Bank Division.
  • Tea Garden management  closeted T.E. on 11 october 2011 without any notice to the tea garden labourers

 Background

The Bhuban Valley TE is said to be owned by Sarda Company. However, it appears to have been mananged by different individuals. Prior to 2002, the tea garden did not seem to have problem. However later the people were not getting their PF and other benefits.  It was discovered that the PF was not deposited for several years which amounted to Rs. 65 lakhs. The management showed that due to lack of profit from the garden they were unable to deposit the amount. When these poor household have been given opportunity  to work around with living wages and better management of the garden, the laborers would not have been led to such acute poverty. The estate is poorly managed and with much negligence of the management for the well being of the laborers. As a result the estate management may have suffered lost and the blame has been always on the poor laborers for the non-productive works. And these might have resulted for agreement after agreement between the management and union of laborers especially leader mostly influenced by political purposes by imposing unconstitutional provisions on the poor laborers for productive works. But these provision seems to have been unworkable and the blame has been of unproductive works of the laborers by the management. As such there have been lock out in the tea garden without prior notice to the laborers.

However on the other side of the story, the cause of poor management of the estate has many reasons. Firstly the actual owners of the estate are stranger to many of the laborers and district officials. Poor laborers, who have already retired, have never seen the real owners. It is reported that since the owner has many other businesses in other places and the actual owner never comes for managing and monitoring the estate. So the management seems to be a proxy management through staff and other close individuals. Even this is vivid clear when in one of the prosecution cases against the management, that the individual who are managing on ground and paper commented in the appeal cases mentioning they are not the real owners and so unable to be prosecuted.

During the lock out every work was suspended. The tea garden dispensary was closed, the people had no work and no pay. Most of the families being dependant on the tea garden, were driven to go to the forest and sell fire wood, look for work in nearby village, where they were compelled to work for less money than in the tea garden. In the garden they were paid Rs. 51/- where as they were forced to work for Rs. 40/- or 30/-.

Findings

Livelihood

During the lockout period the some labourers were taken to the other tea gardens for work, few were going for daily wage in nearby villages and some of them were going out to collect firewood and sell them in the market place. Young boys and girls are migrating to other cities in search of work to support their family members.

When the labourers are taken to the other gardens for work where they are paid Rs.50.00 as wage, when they are going to work in the nearby villages they are paid Rs.30.00 – Rs.40.00.

They collect “Kham Alu”, “Pan Alu” and Kola phul etc. from the nearby forest and hill for their survival

Wage

  1. Wage of this tea garden is @Rs.50/- per day whereas wage in the other Barak valley Tea Estates is @Rs51/-, Brahmaputra valley is @Rs71.51/- andWest Bengal@Rs.85/-
  2. Ration 6kg per 2week,
  3. One third of the house hold are fully dependent on Tea Garden if garden is closed they can not survive.

The people do not have any other source of income.

Health

During the lock out period the hospital was closed though a pharmacist was looking after the tea garden hospital. At the same time they do not have enough money to diagnose and treat them with the private practiceners or take the patient to the town.  There is a PHC at Sonai (about 8 km) and a Sub-Centre at Motinagar (around 2 km) away.

It was found that many children and adults were suffering from different diseases.

Drinking Water& Sanitation

The tea garden set up lacks drinking water facility. There are two ring-wells which are hardly 8-10 ft deep and during this period it is dry. There is one PHE unit setup at the Tea Garden in the year 2011 but it is non functional.

The people walk up to 4-5 km up on the foot hill to collect water from a spring, or collect water from the nearby ponds and canals which is unsafe for drinking purpose.

People are undernourished and prone to various diseases.

Women are anemic. Children are malnourished.

 VIOLATION OF LEGAL PROVISIONS

There is violation of Plantation Labour Act.  No provision of drinking water facilities, housing, medical facilities.

When the company is not able to provide the life saving measures. The management of the company should be handed over to the government.

DEMANDS

The health condition of the people is in critical stage. The critically ill women and children particularly need immediate care. Even after the tea garden opened on   7 February, two more people have died all due to lack of sufficient food and medicine.

  1. extra allocation of pds ration

There is need to provide them relief by way of supplementary food articles for at least 6 months.

  1. Immediate and proper medical support

Even though there is tea garden hospital which is provided with some minimum medicine during the last week, there is no nurse and a doctor. A doctor with a nurse should be provided with medicines.

  1. Drinking water facilities

PHE water supply should be made functional and water supply connection should be set up to the hamlets where the tea workers inhabit

.

  1. Management

There is alleged problem of ownership of the tea garden. We hold Government responsible for the ill management and for all the mishap on the tea workers. Government should take responsibilities as the tea gardens are not able to manage themselves.

  1.  IMPLEMENTATION of supreme court order

The supreme court order of provision of basic food and nutrition to the people has not been followed. The management should be taken to tasks.

  1. Entitlement

All the entitlement of the government such as 100 days of work, job card to even permanent workers family, proper distribution of the PDS, provision of housing should be immediately.

  1. Provident Fund

Criminal procedure should be taken for the years of PF that has not been deposited by the tea management.

SIGNATORIES

  1. WILFRED TOPNO                                         2. STEPHEN EKKA

President Adivasi Sahitya Sabh                           Director, PAJHRA

  1. SAITO BASUMATARY                               3. GODFREY HERE

Coordinator, People’s Rights Forum                Secretary, Nawa Bihan Samaj

  1. REJAN HORO

Organizing secretary, AASAA

Central committee

Annexure(1)

Death list

Death ListLbetween Oct 2011 to Feb 22.

Name of  Death person Sex Age Address
  1. Nagendra Bauri
M 60 North Bank Division
  1. Panchami Bauri
F 3 North Bank Division
  1. Sonamoni Pandey
F 65 North Bank Division
  1. Ratana Gowala
F 35 Chingur Division
  1. Rameswari Kurmi
F 45 Motinagar Division
  1. Subasini Paul
F 70 Do
  1. Sancharan Bauri
M 75 North bank Division
  1. Atul Bauri
M 60 North Bank Division
  1. Susom Tanti
M 45 North Bank  Division
  1. Rasis Dusad
M 85 North Bank Division

17th Jan

  1. Belboti Bauri
F 75 North Bank Division

18th Feb.2012

  1. Jugendara Bauri
M 55 North Bank, Division

22nd Feb.2012

Situation in the Barak valley Tea Garden

There are 106 registered Tea Garden out of that 7 tea garden are closed or Abandoned tea Gardens. Situation may be worse or similar to Bhuban valley Tea Garden. Those tea Garden are the following:

  1. ChargolaValley
  2. Durganagar TE
  3. Modon Mohon
  4. Sreebehula TE
  5. Sengla Chera T.E(taken by new company)
  6. Chincoorie TE
  7. Sarswati TE

ooooooo

(Read here  first report,and  update iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update vi)

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Mega Dams In North-East India: Are They Necessary?

April 26, 2012

A civil society group from across the country studied the impact of mega-dam projects on life and livelihood of the people in North East India. The group in its interim report demanded suspension of construction of dams until a cumulative study that engages with the people finds it beneficial to go ahead with the projects. The report as published in the Countercurrents.org is re-posted here.

Interim Report and Press Statement of CDRO Fact Finding into Mega Dams in North-East

Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisation, comprising of 20 civil and democratic rights organisations from across India decided to undertake a fact finding into the impact of big/mega dam projects coming up in the North Eastern states on the life and livelihood of the people. Reportedly more than 168 MoUs/MoAs have been signed by the Arunachal Pradesh government alone. CDRO believes that such projects, be they so called Run of the River or Storage dams, affect not only people whose land will get submerged upstream but also people living in the downstream area. We also believe that affected people comprise those whose life and livelihood is intricately linked with the river beyond, since water flow will impact agriculture, fisheries, river transportation. Construction of concrete dams in a high seismic zone with sedimentary rock is in itself a mark of utter irresponsibility. Besides, natural floods carry sediments while man-made flood through construction of dam brings sand which destroys cultivable land. Also worth noting is that the seven North Eastern states are plagued by multiple problems born of neglect, discrimination and exploitation of resources accompanied by fear of the people about demographic transformation with the influx from outside threatening their way of life and further militarisation of the region.

The team split into two groups; one headed towards upper Assam and another towards Tipaimukh dam site. The first team visited North Lakhimpur, Dhimaji in Assam and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh covering Lower Subansiri, Lower Siang and also downstream area of Lohit and Dibang river projects in Tinsukhia district. The second team visited Tipaimukh project which would affect people living in Manipur, Mizoram and Assam.

Given below are highlights of what people felt would be the consequence of the projects on their life and livelihood:

I. FIRST TEAM REPORT:

1. Lower Subansiri is allegedly a Run of the River project with storage capacity which would submerge 70 sq kms upstream. The 2000 MW project is being constructed for NHPC by Larsen and Toubro and Soma when fully constructed will have a height of 115 metres. While officially only 31 families would be displaced according to Walter Fernandes, no less than 700 families would be affected. About 3436 ha of forest land would also get submerged and wildlife habitat. Lower stream the impact would be even worse since fear of river drying, fluctuation in water flow, likely increase in deposit of sand over presently cultivable land, destruction of aquatic life which destroy livelihood of 39 lakh fisherfolk, not to forget river transportation. The man-made flood created by 405 MW Ranganadi dam on 14th June 2008 was repeatedly referred to by people to remind us of the possible damage that can be caused to life and livelihood by natural or man-made flood. The difference between peak and lean flow, according to people, is such that likelihood of flash flood increases manifold.

The nature of protest currently in form of four month long blockade of vehicular traffic carrying construction or other equipment meant for the dam, is a clear sign of collective resistance.

2. Lower Siang is again allegedly a Run of the River project with storage capacity which would submerge and restrict habitation in upto 106 kms. Apart from this at height upto one km has been declared as no-man’s land and reserved for compensatory forestation for the company. The 2700 MW project was awarded to Jaiprakash Industries. Siang’s Adi community considers the river as sacred and fears that 35 villages would be affected. Thus their community land which is cultivable and rich in flora and fauna would be wiped out. . IN 34 villages ninety percent of people have affirmed through signature their opposition to the dam. They fear that their culture and people face annihilation. It is this that drove them to protest the construction of dam recently. And fear mixed with anger remains strong among people here.

Lower stream people, especially Mishing community, reside along the river bank. They along with others who live in the plains downstream apprehend that their livelihood would be wiped out since river flow would both impact cultivation as well as fishery on which most of the people depend.

3. Lower Dibang is a 3000 MW storage dam of NHPC with a height of 288 metres which submerge 45 kms upstream wiping out 30 villages. This will affect nearly 50% of Idu-Mishmi community and their community land. If the argument of development and employment opportunities do get created by this project then considering the skilled and qualified people among the Idu-Mishmi they stand to lose. We are told that this generates the fear that people from other parts of India would garner the maximum benefit. This will also nullify whatever protection is offered by the Constitution. The agitation since 2006 has ensured that 11 times public hearing has had to be postponed.

The fear in the downstream area is once again that their life and livelihood would be adversely affected. We do wish to point out that the anti-dam movement is still in its infancy in these parts. But the fear is palpable.

4. Demwe Lower Hydro-electric Project has been given to Athena Demwe Power Ltd. and is said to be Run of the River project to generate 1750 MW and will submerge 26 square kms of land to make way for a reservoir. 1416 (One thousand four hundred sixteen) ha of forest would also be lost in the process. Its height is 163.12 metres. Public hearing was confined to an area of 5 kms below the dam site. One of the fallout of this project would be the damage caused to Dibru Saikhowa bio-diversity area as well as other bio-sphere reserve in Assam.

While people speak in downstream area about the consequence of the Lohit project on their land and livelihood it is yet to take an organised expression.

II. SECOND TEAM REPORT

1. The proposed Tipaimukh project conceived in 1970s and is being currently implemented by NHPC, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and Govt. of Manipur, despite serious opinions of the people to the contrary. It will submerge around 25,822.22 hectares of land ONLY in Manipur apart from Mizoram. The project is going to destroy at least 7.8 mn full grown trees and bamboo bushes. It will be 162 mtrs in height and is supposed to produce 1500 MW of electricity. 12 villages with a population of 557 families /2027 ST people (of the Hmar and Zeliangrong tribes) will be displaced. Most of these figures were disputed by people and activists of organizations working in the area because effects of the dam on the people, land and environment of the down-stream areas have not been evaluated by the government agencies.

There has been a simmering of resistance to the proposed project. Some people perceive it as not only a dam but also a threat to their material existence and life, culture and history. There has been recently some rallies, as the cycle rally by the Village Women Coordination Committee on the 19 Feb Sangaithal area, (Imphal), Jointly organized demonstrations(as the 14th mar 2012 event at Nungba Bazar, Tamenglong )) etc. And the resentment is gathering momentum.

The statutory Public Hearings, for the project, has been fraught with problems and there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction over the way these have been manipulated. The public hearings started in the year 2004 (Darlawn, Mizoram) and continued sporadically till the last one at Tipaimukh on the 31st march 2008. People at Tipaimiukh, have told us categorically they were not heard and what was the decision of the Public Hearing, they said, had already been taken by the officials who had come. There has been a protest against Public Hearing also (Kaimai, Tamenglong district March 2008).

What we have listed above is only a small sample of the impact of the dam on life and livelihood of the people both upstream and downstream. The fact of the matter is that nearly every river will have several dams each; Lohit basin will have 10 dams, Subansiri basin 12, Dibang basin 12, Siang basin 39, Kaming basin 43….These figures can go up were all data made public by the Arunachal government. To build so many dams in an area which is earthquake prone carries incalculable risk for all living beings.

Each MoA is accompanied by monetary advance by project developer to the Arunachal Pradesh government at the time of signing the deal. This implies that the project gets sanctioned even before any of the mandatory reports and clearances is given.

This makes the entire scheme of building projects which will destroy the Brahmaputra basin a colonial project meant to benefit rest of India at the expense of North East. It is also of interest to note that maximum numbers of the projects have been awarded to private companies. Most of the projects lack Impact Assessment Studies. Indeed some which claim to have got this study done are confined to between 5 to 10 kms. Siang river project indeed claims that no agricultural land would be submerged whereas nearly every household in 35 villages would lose their cultivable land! The misinformation by the authorities is accompanied by deliberate attempt to hide the truth from the people by manipulating studies.

We demand:

Suspend construction activities until the cumulative impact study of the entire north east, which involves engagement with the people who will get affected by construction of these dams.

The fact finding was conducted by following organisations:

1. Asansol Civil Rights Association (ACRA), West Bengal

2. Coordination for Human Rights (COHR), Manipur

3. Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS)

4. Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR)

5. Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR), Andhra Pradesh

6. Peoples Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi

Source: http://www.countercurrents.org/crdo250412.htm accessed on 25 April, 2012.

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights

April 5, 2012

Press statement                                                                                                                                                                                       

For Immediate release

The Assam government’s eviction drive in Karimganj violates human rights: BHRPC

The government ofAssamhas sent a 160 member-strong task force of forest officers to forcibly evict both the ‘encroachers’ and ‘other traditional forest dwellers’ living in the reserve forests of Karimganj district. A huge police force from both the state police and the central reserve police force (CRPF) have been placed at their disposal. The BHRPC is deeply concerned about the danger of forcible eviction of an estimated 300 families of forest dwellers living in Patharia reserve forest for generations.

In the course of a fact-finding study conducted by the BHRPC in Patharia reserve forest that has approximately 7647.300 hectares of land it was revealed that some businessmen grabbed lands measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) falling in and around Patharia reserve forest for rubber cultivation allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operative and border areas development Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The lands provided the residents of Satkoragul, Mokkergul and Bhitorgul villages in Nilambazar with the only means of livelihoods and dwelling places. As the rubber planters grabbed their lands the villagers lost their livelihoods and now living half-starved for months. Although the Minister later denied his involved he maintained that the lands belonged to the land and revenue department and the department has leased the land to a non-government organization called Asalkandi Grameen Bikash Kendra, while the forest department claimed that the lands belong to it. The villagers claim that although the largest part of their land falls in the reserve forest, one part is farag (Zamindari) land and another small part is government khas (unalotted) land.

After the villagers staged several protest demonstrations and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) registered a case (NHRC Case No. 99/3/10/2012) in the matter on a complaint filed by the BHRPC and the matter was brought to the notice of other authorities including the Prime Minister, the government of Assam made some moves, most of which are in not in right intent and directions. Two deputy rangers, one assistant ranger and one beat officer in the forest department were suspended for dereliction in duties. On the other hand, two officials of the revenue department posted at the Nilambazar circle office were also suspended for fabricating false lease documents showing forest land as land under the revenue department as found by an inquiry conducted by Karimganj sub-divisional magistrate N Shanti Singh. Despite a writ petition is pending before the Gauhati High Court in the matter of claim of the forest department that farag title has no validity and the entire plot of land is forest land, the government has started forcible eviction even from these disputed parts of land. The task force has been deployed apparently to recapture the forest land from rubber planters as well as other ‘encroachers’. The operation has been going on since 3 April in Dohalia reserve forest and at any moment they can use force against the inhabitants of Patharia.

When contacted by the BHRPC (on 4 April) the conservator of forest, southern range, Mr. Abdus Shahid Laskar has confirmed that the government does not recognize the forest rights of the traditional and other traditional forest dwellers under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. He warned that the land-grabbers and the forest dwellers would be dealt with similarly. By launching a misinterpretation of law he categorically asserted that anything that has happened after declaring the area as reserve forest in 1920 has no validity implying that any human settlement made after that year can not be considered under the Forest Rights Act in flagrant contradiction to the express provisions of clause (o) of section 2 of Act that defines “other traditional forest dweller” as any member or community who has for at least three generations prior to the 13th day of December, 2005 primarily resided in and who depend on the forest or forests land for bona fide livelihood needs. He also falsely claimed that there was a public hearing held by the British colonialists in 1920s and they did not find any human habitation within the area. Nonetheless, the dwellers claim that they have been living there for generations spanning more than 75 years.

Moreover, the forcible eviction involves violations of a host of fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution ofIndiaas well as basic human rights enshrined in the international human rights instruments such as right to life with dignity, right to livelihood, right to adequate housing, right to freedom of residence etc. Especially for people who settled in reserve forests and eke out a livelihood in connection with their habitat and environment by cultivation or other professional activities are now facing a grave threat to their livelihood, as their access to their forest habitat will predictably be denied to them, in case of the effectuation of the eviction drive.

The BHRPC thinks there are strong reasons to suspect the bona fide of this drive of forced eviction since there are many a cases when forest land has been reclaimed from forest dwellers only to be utilized in the interest of a class of rich businessmen, local mafia and other vested interests. Needless to say, such a powerful lobby of interests is also acting behind this move by the forest department to evict and reclaim the forest land so that they can take over slowly the land recovered. There is no guarantee that the land that is reclaimed by way of eviction today will remain as forest land tomorrow, once there are no forest dwellers. Such a land could be easily utilized by vested interests for their own purposes even while keeping the land under the ownership of the forest department. Reserve forest without dwellers in every part ofAssamis getting denuded in the absence of any accountability of the concerned government and its agencies. Two categories of land could be identified in cases of reclamation: land with unspoilt forest and land with denuded forest. Patahria forest, being of the first category constitutes an easy allurement for vested interests to work through abuse of legal power of forest department and police to deny rights of settlers as per Forest Rights Act. The disused rights of forest settlers of Patahria wields this cruel promise of reclamation, a programme that only marks use of brute force against helpless victim-residents in Pataharia forest.

The BHRPC has filed a supplementary submission at the NHRC in the case that was registered in this regard urging the commission to pass an interim recommendation calling upon the authorities to halt the eviction drive immediately and stop the destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers; to take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers and reiterated its earlier demands that the villagers should be provided with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb; the victims and witnesses should be provided with adequate security; a prompt, fair and objective inquiry should be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein; the rights of the other traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations should be recognized; the khas lands that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless should be settled in their names as per government policy; and all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers should also be taken.

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

5 April 2012

 Guwahati

This statement was also forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission and can be accessed at their website at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/forwarded-news/AHRC-FST-023-2012

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.

Forest dwellers deprived of livelihood and facing forcible eviction in Assam

March 22, 2012

Summary of BHRPC fact-finding report into the Patharia land-grabbing case[1]

Introduction:

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of the North East Indian state of Assam 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 allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly 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. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail. The BHRPC is deeply concerned over the situation of the poor forest dwellers.

The BHRPC first learnt about the situation from newspaper reports (See 14 March, 2012 issue of the Dainik Prantojyoti, a Bengali daily newspaper published from Silchar, Assam) on 14 March, 2012 and formed a fact-finding group of 1. Mr. Neharul Ahmed Mazumder, 2. Mr. Sadique Mohammed Laskar, 3. Mr. Nirmal Kumar Das and 4. Mr. Sams Uddin Laskar to study the situation and prepare a report. The team visited the Patharia area on 17 March and met with the forest dwellers and other local people. This preliminary report is based on the findings of the team during the visit.

The area where the situation has developed is known as Satkoragul, Mokkergul and Bhitorgul and falls in the village of Pecharpar under the Patharkandi Police Stattion in the district of Karimganj that has about 100 kilometres long international border with Bangladesh. The village is situated along the border. A part of the village land comes under the Bilbari forest beat of the Patharia reserve forest. It is at a distance of about 30km towards south west from Karimganj town, the administrative headquarters of the district.

Facts on the Ground:

Logs and roots of feeled trees in a hillock at the village

Logs and roots of feeled trees in a hillock at the village

The BHRPC team, even though accompanied by a resident of nearby Patharkandi (name withheld), have been greeted with an eerie silence. Fear and disbelief were visibly writ large in the faces of the people. When the team met a person after entering the village and asked about the situation, another person came out running from a house and told that nothing happened there. With fear and terror-stricken face he told that there was no land grab and threat of eviction. Then the team met a woman resident (name withheld) who took them to her house. The team were aware that many people gathered around her house and were whispering trying to remain unseen and unheard. They suddenly came out looking agitated. They asked if the BHRPC team were ‘people of the minister’. After the team introduced themselves as human rights defenders and explained the purpose of the visit they calmed down and told their story one by one.

The team met around 30 persons of 18 families of the forest dwellers (names withheld). It is learnt from the villagers that they have been living in the area for generations and at the least for more than 75 years using approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) land for both dwelling and livelihood purposes. Almost all of the residents are Bengalis; either Hindus or Muslims by religion. It is very heartening to see that both the communities have been leading a simple and idyllic life in perfect harmony with each other on the one hand and with the nature on the other. Religion does not come in their sense of communitarianism.

According to them, a part of the land held by them for generations comes under the Patharia reserve forest, another part is government khas land (un-allotted government land) and the remaining part is farag land (land once held by the (Zamindars) feudal lords but later given to the tenants under contract). The villagers primarily live on forest produces, farming of cultivable land and cattle rearing. Among the forest produces, they usually only collect dried up and felled branches of trees and sell them as fire woods, which does not affect the forest in any way. In arable land they grow paddy, ginger, turmeric, taro along with growing bamboo and betel nut tress in high land.  They also rear hen, duck, goat, cow and buffalo etc. in the forest land for livelihood support.

According to the villagers, some people started to fell trees in the forest land falling under Pecharpar village in November, 2011. When the villagers inquired why they were felling the trees, they were told that the tree cutters were ‘people of minister’ Siddeque Ahmed and he bought the land from the forest department for rubber plantation. This piece of news shocked and terrified the villagers so much that they could not decide the course of actions for months. The labourers employed for felling the trees were supervised by one Mr Mahibur Rahman (also known as Bolu Mia) of Choudhury Tilla, a person known to be close to the minister and dreaded by the local people, according to the villagers. The villagers also did not have any idea how much land would be grabbed in this way. They kept mum as they were asked.

Log of a tree cut down in the village

Log of a tree cut down in the village

Meanwhile, the tree cutters continued their work and almost all of the land held by the villagers were cleared within about a month. They felled almost all the big trees and burnt down small trees, vegetables, bushes and grass. This clearing of the land destroyed everything which the villagers live on. They had nothing to eat and feed their cattle. In this situation, some villagers met the minister at his residence in Nilambazar (Karimganj district). He told them that he had already procured title deeds of the land and now he owned it. He also told that if they still had any grievances he would provide them with some relief in terms of money. The villagers returned with empty hand.

However, the BHRPC failed to get a confirmation or denial from the minister of the claim made by the villagers about his direct involvement in the land grab as several efforts to contact him over his mobile number that is available with the BHRPC failed. Though most of the time the phone was found switched off he received one of the calls but did not talk about the matter. Later it was learnt that he told the local news reporters that the land in question was not bought by him. It is a non-government village organization named Asalkandi Gramin Bikash Kendra that took the land from the forest department on lease for rubber plantation and he has nothing to do with the organization, he added. But the organization is yet to confirm or deny the claim of the minister. The name of the organization suggests that it is based in Asalkandi, a village adjacent to Pecharpar.

After failure at the door of the minister, when the villagers tried to organize themselves to protest against the illegal land grab and illegal felling of trees, some people who identified themselves as persons working for the minister including Mr Bolu Mia, Mr. Abdul Hannan of Raghurtuk and Mr Manik told the villagers that it would not serve anything to try to fight against the minister. According to them, the minister is a powerful person and in case of opposition to him the villagers would have to face dire consequences including facing serious police cases, serving jail terms for long period and other dangers. They further asked the villagers to stop construction of any houses and leave the place as soon as possible, the BHRPC team was informed by the villagers.

One villager (name withheld) stated that he was residing in Pecharpar since he was born and his father told that he had also been born there. He had approximately 1.60 acres of land including his house. He used to grow betel nut, fruit trees and vegetables including taro and ginger etc. in the land, which were all cut down and taken away and which could not be taken away were burnt down. He was left with no source of livelihood and he was worried how to feed his family of 12 members (6 children, 3 adult female and 3 adult male). More worryingly, he has no place to live with the family if he is forced to leave the village.

When the BHRPC team met a woman resident of the village (name withheld) she broke down with emotion and wiping her tears told that she was worried about the personal security of her daughter (name and other details withheld) and female member of her family.  She told that when the people who were cutting the trees and clearing the land did not respond to her protest as she was old she sent her daughter. They abused her daughter and threatened that they would abduct, rape and kill her and other female members of her family. The woman also told that she had about 2 hectares of land including her house. The trees and vegetables that she had grown in the land were cut down and burnt down. She had now nothing to support her family of 7 persons.

Another resident of Satkoragul (name withheld) told that he held nearly 4 hectares of land under farag contract. This land was also cleared out. He used to grow bamboos in high land and paddy in low land and vegetables and fruit trees in other parts. According to him, he and his family of 12 persons were leading a happy and very contented life. But, now he even lost words to express his anxiety and worries. He had nothing to provide for the family and nowhere to go in case of forcible eviction.

All other residents talked with by the BHRPC team told more less the same story. They held land ranging from half a hectare to 3 hectares per family, which has now been grabbed by the minister and his people. The villagers have nothing to eat and nowhere to go in case of eviction. If the situation continues they may have to live under conditions of starvation and may also be subjected to forcible displacement.

Some villagers (names withheld) accompanied the BHRPC team and showed the land, logs and roots of felled trees and ashes of the burnt out vegetables, bushes and grass. He uttered some chilling words as an aside. He said that he did not accompany any politicians from the opposition who came to inspect the area for fear of life, but he was accompanying the BHRPC team as they were human rights defenders. He did not know what would happen to him after the BHRPC team leaves.

Cattle looking for grass in a burnt out hillock

Cattle looking for grass in a burnt out hillock

On the other hand, it is reported that after one opposition politician issued a statement demanding resignation of the minister inquiries were initiated by the forest department. However, it is said that the forest department officials who visited the village were some times accompanied by ‘the people of the minister’. Therefore, the villagers have questioned the impartiality and objectivity of the officials. It is also learnt that a case was filed at the Patahrkandi police station against some unknown persons by ranger of Patharkandi forest range for illegal felling of trees in the land of forest reserve. According to the villagers, this is a move by the department to subvert the process of law as the accused have not been named and there is none who would dare to name them. It is further learnt that the District Magistrate (Deputy Commissioner) of Karimganj has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the felling of trees and land grabbing. But the villagers are of the opinion that an executive magistrate who works under the minister can not conduct an impartial and objective inquiry against the minister and his people.

In the meantime, destruction of forest and other land produces continue as well as the ominous threat of displacement keeps coming nearer to an infernal reality. And it is clearly written in the wrinkles that are getting deeper in the faces of the hapless villagers.

Legal Comments:

As revealed by the facts stated by the villagers it is prima facie a case of diversion of forest land for non-forest commercial purpose of rubber plantation as well as a case of criminal trespass and taking illegal possession of land held by both the department of environment and forest in Patharia reserve forest and the villagers of Pecharpar under titles of farag and uninterrupted possession for generations that are good against the whole world violating the community rights of protection of environment and ecological balance and individual right to lead a life with dignity.

A hillock in the village cleared and being prepared for rubber plantation

A hillock in the village cleared and being prepared for rubber plantation

Aforestation for diversion of forest land for non forest activities without prior permission of the central government of India is a clear violation of the provisions and purpose of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court of India in orders passed from time to time in T N Godavarman Thirumuilpad Vs Union of India and Others (WP (C) No 202 of 1995). The court directed the authorities in order dated 12-5-2001 in the case that “(f)elling of trees from forests shall be only in accordance with working plans/schemes or felling schemes approved by Ministry of Environment & Forests as per this Court’s Order dated 15.01.1998. ………….. . Court’s order dated 12.12.1996. (states) while implementing the working plans/schemes approved by the Central Government, State Government, or the concerned authority, as the case may be, shall ensure that no felling is done unless and until sufficient financial provisions exist for regeneration of such areas as per this Court’s directions dated 22.9.2000.”  The alleged land-grabbers have shown gross contempt of the highest court of the land by blatant violation of its clear direction since it is obvious that they did not feel it necessary to seek permission from anybody. Their reported claim of taking the land from the forest department on lease is a falsehood calculated to mislead the public.

 More importantly the people who have been living in and holding the forest land for generations are “other traditional forest dwellers” within the meaning of clause (o) of section 2 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known as Forest Rights Act– FRA). They are entitled to all the rights enumerated in sub-section (1) of section 3 of the FRA namely: “(a) right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers;

 

(b) community rights such as nistar, by whatever name called, including those used in erstwhile Princely States, Zamindari or such intermediary regimes;

 

(c) right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce which has been traditionally collected within or outside village boundaries;

 

(d) other community rights of uses or entitlements such as fish and other products of water bodies, grazing (both settled or transhumant) and traditional seasonal resource access of nomadic or pastoralist communities;

 

(e) rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities;

(f) rights in or over disputed lands under any nomenclature in any State where claims are disputed;

 

(g) rights for conversion of Pattas or leases or grants issued by any local authority or any State Government on forest lands to titles;

 

(h) rights of settlement and conversion of all forest villages, old habitation, unsurveyed villages and other villages in forests, whether recorded, notified or not into revenue villages;

 

(i) right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use;

 

(j) rights which are recognised under any State law or laws of any Autonomous District Council or Autonomous Regional Council or which are accepted as rights of tribals under any traditional or customary law of the concerned tribes of any State;

 

(k) right of access to biodiversity and community right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity;

 

(l) any other traditional right customarily enjoyed by the forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes or other traditional forest dwellers, as the case may be, which are not mentioned in clauses (a) to (k) but excluding the traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal;

 

(m) right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to the 13th day of December, 2005.

The fact that these statutory rights of the villagers have not yet been formally recognized shows disrespect of the government to the law duly passed by the parliament.

Some of the land held by the villagers is khas land (unsettled government land) and falls within the domain of the state land and revenue department. This land is possessed by the villagers uninterrupted for generations and as per the government policy the land should have been settled in the names of the possessors decades ago as they were otherwise landless. It is also a case of the government apathy towards implementation of its own policy.

The other part of the land held by the villagers is locally known as farag land. In the Birtish colonial period feudal land lords (locally known as Zamindars) used to temporarily transfer the right to possession and user of some land to their subjects (known as Rayats) under certain conditions including payment of revenues. The land that has been transferred under this system is called farag land. In independent India after abolition of Zamindari system the contract of farag gives the land holder a legal title that is good against the whole world. The acts of entering this part of the villagers’ land and destruction of vegetables and other crops by the alleged land-grabbers coupled with threat of murder, rape and filing of false cases constitute serious offences such as criminal trespass, mischief causing damage to property and mischief with preparation for causing death or hurt punishable under sections 447, 427 and 440 respectively of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

These violations of laws, commitment of crimes resulting in deprivation of livelihood and dispossession of legitimately held properties coupled with threat of forcible eviction from their houses and the village with the support of the minister constitute gross violations of the rights of the villagers to equality and to lead a life with human dignity under the condition of adequate standard of living as enshrined in Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. In the case of UP Avas Evam Vikas Parishad Vs. Friends Coop. Housing Society Ltd [(1996) AIR 114 1995 SCC] the Supreme Court observed that ‘the right to shelter is a fundamental right, which springs from the right to residence under Article 19 (1) (e) and the right to life under Article 21.’ 

The Supreme Court has also defended the right to livelihood and pronounced it as inviolable from the right to shelter. This was established in the case Olga Tellis Vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation: ‘Eviction of the petitioners from their dwellings would result in the deprivation of their livelihood. Article 21 includes livelihood and so if the deprivation of livelihood were not affected by reasonable procedure established by law, the same would be violative of Article 2. … … The right under Article 21 is the right to livelihood because no person can live without the means of living, i.e. the means of livelihood. If the right to livelihood were not to be recognized as part of the constitutional right to life, the easiest way of depriving a person of his right to life would be to deprive him of his mens of livelihood to the point of abrogation. … . There is thus a close nexus between life and means of livelihood. And as such that which alone makes it possible to live, leave aside what makes life liveable, must be deemed to be an integral component of the right to life.’

It is also a case of violations of rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living set out in international human rights norms including Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR) and a number of legally binding international instruments to which India is a state party such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child, 1989 (CRC), the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979 (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Racial Discrimination, 1965 (CERD) and others.[2]

Recommendations:

Under the circumstances, the BHRPC recommends to the authorities of the central government in New Delhi and of the state government in Dispur, Assam:

  1. To take urgent actions to stop immediately felling of trees and destruction of vegetables and other crops grown by the villagers;
  1. To take urgent actions to restore immediately possession of the land to the villagers;
  1. To provide the villagers with adequate monetary compensation for loss of property and mental agony caused by destruction of forest and vegetables and corps grown by them, dispossession of land and threat of imminent danger to life and limb;
  1. To provide adequate security to the victims and witnesses;
  1. To conduct promptly a fair and objective inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation particularly into the alleged crimes and involvement of the minister therein;
  1. To recognize immediately the rights of the traditional forest dwellers under the FRA, 2006 of the villagers who have been living there for generations;
  1. To settle the khas land that are possessed by the villagers uninterruptedly for generations and who are otherwise landless in their names as per government policy; and
  1. To take all other actions and measures necessary to ensure full enjoyment of the rights to life with dignity under adequate standard of living by the villagers.

 

See photographs at http://wp.me/phKmE-fR

(Read update 1)

For more information please contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com

Mobile: 0 94019 42234


 [1]    The identity of the victims and witnesses is not disclosed in view of the threat they are facing. Disclosure may endanger their life. Concerned readers are requested to contact the BHRPC for names and addresses of the victims and other relevant information if they are required for taking actions on their behalf. The details may be provided under an assurance of confidentiality.

[2]           Article 25.1 of the UDHRC states that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

            Article 11.1 of the ICESCR states that: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.”

            Article 17 of ICCPR states that: “1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. 2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

            Articles 16.1 and 27.3 of the CRC respectively states that: “No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.” “States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right and shall in the case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”

            Article 14.2 (h) of the CEDAW states that: “States Parties shall undertake all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to such women the right … (h) to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.”

            Article 5 (e) (iii) of CERD obliges States “to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination in all of its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of … (e) … (iii) the right to housing”.

Reports on starvation deaths in Assam

March 17, 2012

Tea Labourers dying of hunger in Assam

Residents of a tea garden in South Assam are dying reportedly of hunger, malnutrition and lack of medical care. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has so far learnt about 14 recent deaths, prima facie, caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper medical care in the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a tea garden owned by a private company based in Kolkata, in the district of Cachar in North-East Indian state of Assam. As the Tea Estate, in which about 500 permanent and another 1000 casual workers were working, was closed down in October 8, 2011,  they lost their jobs and till 27 February 2012 ten workers lost their lives. According to the fact-finding report issued by the BHRPC on 1 February, 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 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. 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.  Even after the publication of the disturbing report the authorities did not take any actions except re-opening of the garden on 9 February and denial of starvation deaths. Therefore, the situation continued to worsen. The BHRPC again on 11 February reported the critical health conditions of 43 other people. Among them two more people died on 18 and 22 February which was also reported by the BHRPC. 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 said that these deaths were not caused by starvation without any proper inquiry. Assam government’s actions were, at beast, inadequate and misleading,said the BHRPC in a statementOn the other hand, deaths continue unabated in the tea garden and on 10 March the BHRPC reported two more deaths. Thereafter also the tragedy continues and another worker died on 3 May.

The situation is very disturbing and the studied silence of the authorities is more disturbing. The BHRPC has started an online petition urging the authorities to prevent the deaths.

Please sign petition here supporting campaign to save the labourers. or for detail information read the first reportupdate iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update viupdate viiupdate viii.