Posts Tagged ‘Corruption’

Assam: Woman human rights defender Christina Pyrtuh and her family assaulted, molested and driven away for anti-corruption works

February 18, 2018

Mrs. Christina Pyrtuh and her family were assaulted, molested and driven out of her home and village for protesting against corruption in implementation of schemes under the local area development fund of the member of legislative assembly (MLA) of Assam representing their constituency Katigorah in the district of Cachar in Assam. She also protested against malfeasance of funds meant for Indira Avas Yojana (now rechristened as Pradhan Mantri Avas Yojana). She and her family are now temporarily living in Meghalaya at great risks of danger to her and her children’s life and limbs. She and her family are being persecuted for her works of protest as a Human Rights Defender.

Mrs. Cristina Pyrtuh is a 34 years old woman from the Khasi community of the village Baikham Punji, under Kushiarkul Gaon Panchayat in Katigorah in the district of Cachar, Assam. Her father’s name is late Benjamine Suting. She has four children. She is a farmer by occupation. Inspite of her cardiac illness, she is a very active woman and aware of her rights and duties as a member of the society.  Her family includes:

  1. Pretane Pyrtuh 15 years old daughter of Christina Pyrtuh.
  2. Aryan Pyrtuh , 12 years old son of Cristina Pyrtuh.
  3. Dannyster Pyrtuh, 6 years old son of Christina Pyrtuh.
  4. Esharica Pyrtuh, 11years old. Daughter of Christina Pyrtuh.
  5. Stalbida Pyrtuh, mother of Christina Pyrtuh. She is almost 70 years old. She is wholly dependent on Christina Pyrtuh.

The Baikam Punji is one of the very interior Punji[1] under Kushiarkul Gaon Panchayat of Gumra area which is about 45 Kms away from Silchar, the district-headquarters of Cachar. About 40 families with 116 voters, mainly from Khashi community live there.  The average standard of living of the inhabitants is very poor. The main source of livelihood of the inhabitants is traditional farming.  Since it is a hilly area the only source of drinking water is a water reservoir constructed three years before. For primary health care service, a sub-center under Kalain Hospital has been set up in 2013 but it always remains closed and no doctor or staff has visited there since the construction[2].  Huge corruption is allegedly going on in implementation of different government schemes meant to be implemented by the Gaon Panchayat authorities, the local self-government institution. The only road through which they communicate has always been a kachhasarak[3]. It is only this year that an amount of 29 lakh 80 thousand rupees has been sanctioned by the local MLA from his MLA fund for construction of the road.

According to Mrs. Christina Pyrtuh, which account was also corroborated by the newspaper reports, there were allegations of gross corruption in the construction works of the said road sanctioned under the MLA fund. Villagers of Baikam Punji organized a meeting on the issue at the 1618 No. Baikam Punji L.P.School  on 19 December 2017.  MLA Shri Amar Chand Jain was also present there. Mrs. Cristiana Pyrtuh also participated in the meeting and raised her voice against such corruption allegedly committed by the GP president Bablu Das in collaboration with some of the local people like Dilip Pyrtuh, Jan-Mukhim, Daboymi Lamare, Sidwel Suchiang and the village headman Drickson Shyllain implementation of different government projects in the Punji. Mrs. Pyrtuh along with other villagers such as Than-Mukhim, Fiden Kamen as well as the local teacher Mr. Banamali Prashad alleged that apart from the poor construction of the roads, Mr. Bablu Das and his accomplices also adopted corrupt practices during the distribution of houses under the Prime Minister Avas Yojona as they did earlier when it was known as Indira Avas Yojona. After taking bribe, they had given the financial assistance to Rumen Suchiang whose husband is a BSF[4] personnel and who is the daughter of Jan-mukhim, one of their accomplices. Some family members of Dilip Pyrtuh also got the financial benefits.  Witnessing by his own eyes MLA scolded the accused persons and instructed the villagers to remain in correspondence with him and inform him about any further malpractices.

The accused persons got very angry and annoyed at the protesters including Mrs Pyrtuh. They organized a meeting of their own in the village and asked the villagers to boycott and ostracize the protesters. Then one of the accused Daboimi Lamare who is a neighbor of the Mrs Pyrtuh started abusing her often after getting drunk. He asked her to leave the village otherwise he said he was going to make her life worse than hell by cutting her water connection. Then on 29 December Mrs. Pyrtuh saw that the pipe through which her family got water from the local water-reservoir was cut down. She complained to the villagers who suspected that the accused Daboymi Lamare did this as he warned. When asked he admitted that he did it indeed because the pipe went through his land and he was not going to allow it any more. The villagers then suggested Mrs. Pyrtuh a new route to carry the pipe through avoiding the accused person’s land. She bought a new pipe and connected it through the way the villagers suggested. But on 31 December the new water pipe was wrecked again.  She was forced to fetch water in pitcher by herself from a distant river without the pipe.

On 1 January 2018 two of the accused persons namely Daboy Lamare and Jan-mukhim again attacked Mrs. Pyrtuh’s house, vandalized in the yards, abused the victim family with filthy languages and threatened them with death. In Mstr. Arayan Pyrtuh’s words, Daboy Lamare said, “I will flee to Bangladesh after killing you with my Do-nala and fouling the graveyard with the venom of your dead body.”  The whole night they remained near her house waiting for an opportunity to attack them.  The victim family got very scared and sent words to the villagers for help but nobody came forward this time.  On 2 January Mrs. Pyrtuh lodged a complaint to the police.

Following the complaint, the police registered an FIR vide the Katigorah P.S Case No. 08/18 and on that night the police came and arrested two of the accused namely Diboymi Lamare and Dilip Pyrtuh. However, the victim saw that Diboymi came back home that night itself and Dilip got released on the very next day.

After coming back home the accused persons got more enraged and they started a vicious campaign against Mrs. Pyrtuh. They went door to door trying to manipulate the villagers saying that she didn’t want the development of the village. Their campaign included attempt of her character assassination linking her with another person who also spoke out against them in the meeting.

On the other hand, due to shortage of drinking water the victim family fell ill and Mrs. Pyrtuh, Mstr. Dannyster Pyrtuh and Mstr. Aryan Pyrtuh, two of her children, had to be hospitalized in the Kalain Primary Health Center on 3 January, 2018. They were suffering acute diarrhea along with severe dehydration. Mstr. Dennyster Pyrtuh was referred to Silchar Medical Collage, Silchar. The victim decided to consult another earlier known doctor before taking him to the Silchar Medical College and fortunately with his medication the child showed improvement. She took him to home on 4 January, 2018.

After returning home some of the villagers informed her that they called one more meeting on 5 January, 2018 to settle the issue and she had to attend the meeting.  She went there bonafide keeping in mind the well-being of her children and hoping that now at least they would get enough drinking water but it turned out to be more of a nightmare.  When she went there one of the accused Shiduel Suchiang started clicking her photo from here and there. Then all the accused persons started pressurizing her to withdraw the case and not to give any statement to the press. The said Shudiel Suchiang also assaulted her in that meeting. They also threatened Mstr. Denyster Pyrtuh. Then on 5 January, 2018 at about 7 P.M Jan Mukhim came with some of his accomplices whom the victim family could not recognize and pelted stones to the victim’s house at the Punji. The inmates of the house had to run to a safe place nearby to save themselves. In the process Mrs. Stelbeda Pyrtuh narrowly escaped a fatal stone. The accused persons also went on abusing and threatening the whole family with death. The family had to spend the night in utmost fear and terror. And on that morning after spending a whole sleepless night they had to leave the Punji for a safer shelter. But before that she filed another complaint to the Gumra Police Investigation Center on the incident of stone pelting and threatening but no actions have been taken by the police. Right now, they are living with a relative in Meghalaya temporarily.  However, she regularly visits the Police Investigation Centre, Gumrah to know about the status of her case, although they did not pay any attention to her requests and no actions were taken as well.

Mother and children of Mrs. Chrinstina Pyrtuh after they were driven out of home

Mother and children of Mrs. Chrinstina Pyrtuh after they were driven out of home

Seeing no other options, Mrs. Pyrtuh contacted Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) and came to the office on 19 January 2018. Since the police was not taking any actions on her case, BHRPC advised her to give a representation to the higher police officials. Accordingly she met Superintendent of Police, Cachar on 23 January 2018 and submitted a representation requesting for investigation of cases and for providing security to her and her family. Then, on 24 January 2018 the Investigation Officer of Gumrah Police Investigation Centre called her over the phone and asked her to go to the police station. She went there with her son Aryan at 1.pm in the noon but was asked to wait outside. She waited till 6 pm but nobody bothered to talk to her. She was a cardiac patient and as it was a cold weather she felt ill. She was having serious breathing problems. The little one (her son) called one of her friends who immediately took her to the nearby Kalain FRU where she was admitted in serious condition. She was then referred to the Silchar Medical College on the next day but she opted to go to NEGRIMS in Shillong (Meghalaya) in view of threats to life and went there.

BHRPC also wrote to the SP on 12 February 2018 but no action was taken. Then an appeal dated 17 February 2018 was sent by BHRPC to the Director General of Police, Assam and other authorities requesting for appropriate actions.

Mrs. Pyrtuh and her family are staying in Meghalaya till today. The police are still inactive and no charge-sheet has been filed yet. BHRPC is concerned about the safety and security and well-being of Mrs. Pyrtuh, her mother and children.

……………………………………………………………..

For further information, Ms Taniya Laskar, Secretary General, BHRPC, may be contacted on 9401616763 and at taniyalaskar@gmail.com.

……………………………………………………………………………….

[1]                      It’s a small unit of some Khashi family living in an area under a leader known as the Head-man.

[2]                      As per the news paper report.

[3]                      A temporary road.

[4]                      Border Security Force.

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India: Proposed reform in criminal justice administration takes away basic human rights and freedom

August 14, 2012

Forwarded statement

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) forwards the statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) August 13, 2012 on the proposed reforms in criminal justice administration in India that proposes a rights trade-off in the excuse of national security, including the negation of the fundamental right to silence and the presumption of innocence. The principle of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ will find itself introduced into criminal trials to convict a person, rather than the requirement of ‘conclusiveness in proof’, the current norm. Statements made by persons to the police during investigation would become admissible as evidence without adequate verification. Expert opinions would be treated as substantive evidence and not as estimations. The trials of offenses punishable with a maximum sentence below 3 years would be reduced into summary proceedings. The draft policy would allow the state to restrict at whim the very scope of the concepts of freedom of opinion and expression. The freedom of the media to report cases, and expose crimes, including those of corruption at high places, would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

INDIA: Reform dishonesty first

August 13, 2012

The government is again planning to change the criminal justice mainframe of the country. Again, the ruse is that of justice to the people and national security. The proposal is open; its true purpose clandestine. If the 2007 report of the Committee on National Policy on Criminal Justice, chaired by Dr. N.R. Madhava Menon, is what has lead to this reform proposal, heed the sign that reads: caution.

On August 9, Mr. Mullapally Ramachandran, union state minister at the Ministry of Home Affairs, stated in Lok Sabha that his ministry is planning to effect a comprehensive change to the criminal justice landscape of the nation. The minister said the overhaul would include amendments to the Indian Penal Code (1860), the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973), and the Indian Evidence Act (1872), collectively known as the criminal major acts.

The ‘reform’ plans to closely consider proposals made by the Committee chaired by Justice V. S. Malimath on reforms of the Criminal Justice System (2003), and the Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice, submitted to the government by Dr. Menon (2007). The Draft National Policy document is itself, in fact, nothing but a summary of the earlier Malimath Committee report.

Mr. Ramachandran informed the House that his ministry has sent its suggestions to the National Law Commission, with a request that the Commission detail the legislative changes needed to bring about the reforms the ministry have in mind. However, neither did the minister care to elaborate, nor did any Member of Parliament think of demanding, the details concerning the proposed reforms. And, no such information is available in the public domain, even at the Home Ministry’s website.

The minister also failed to inform the house whether there would be any public consultation. Given the precedence, there could be some token consultation. Given the history though, not many civil society groups will participate meaningfully, even if they have knowledge of such consultation. This is because the criminal justice system remains a blind-spot amongst Indian civil society groups. Thus, either way, public at large will not be consulted, even though the ‘reforms’ propose to substantially take away their fundamental freedoms.

If the draft national policy is the guideline for the proposed reforms, soon Indians will find their civil rights substantially curtailed. It is a literal death trap for fundamental freedoms. Telephone conversations and other communications will be intercepted by state agencies, acting with statutory impunity, redefining thus the very notion of privacy and privilege in communications.

The draft policy proposes a rights trade-off in the excuse of national security, including the negation of the fundamental right to silence and the presumption of innocence. The principle of ‘preponderance of probabilities’ will find itself introduced into criminal trials to convict a person, rather than the requirement of ‘conclusiveness in proof’, the current norm. Statements made by persons to the police during investigation would become admissible as evidence without adequate verification. Expert opinions would be treated as substantive evidence and not as estimations. The trials of offenses punishable with a maximum sentence below 3 years would be reduced into summary proceedings. The draft policy would allow the state to restrict at whim the very scope of the concepts of freedom of opinion and expression. The freedom of the media to report cases, and expose crimes, including those of corruption at high places, would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

If the national policy as proposed by Dr. Menon’s committee were to be implemented by requisite legislative and constitutional amendments, the relationship between the state and subjects will be re-defined. The amendments will take away the scope of fair trial, since what the police say would soon become proof for conviction. It will, of course, reduce delays in adjudication. This is because it would hardly leave any need for adjudication. Since the policy does not speak about reforming the police by imposing accountability upon the force, the rich and the powerful will still manage to escape investigation, trials and convictions. The national policy only speaks of awarding more powers to the investigating agencies, which, as it is, today, are selectively used and would remain the same. The government has already spoken its mind in failing to implement the Supreme Court’s directives in the Prakash Singh case, watershed directives towards independence and accountability in the criminal justice system. Continued and shameless ignorance of the Court’s directives on one hand, and the institution of these ‘reforms’ on the other, the country will have to continue contending with the same criminals in uniform, policing the people, the only difference being enormous enhancement in police powers, and consequent reduction of individual freedom. With these changes, India will become a police state.

To justify the draconian proposals, Dr. Menon’s committee has liberally used presumptions and surmises, laced together with weaselly generalisations. The draft policy, as far as addressing issues that have rendered the criminal justice system in India a complete failure goes, is a non sequitur. The committee is of the opinion that the Indian state is ‘soft’, which has rendered crime control impossible in the country, and hence has recommended the changes cited above.

It has, in no uncertain terms, discriminated regions in the country, as ‘terrorist’, where it prescribes the role played by the state as an iron fist as just and right, never-mind the fact that such thinking has only helped worsen the living conditions in these regions, with innumerable instances of human rights abuses committed by state and non-state actors.

The committee has, in unambiguous terms, used exceptions such as terrorist attacks as excuse for the dilution of civil liberties, and has encouraged the state to constitute a national framework that could curtail fundamental freedoms to ensure security. The committee has cited restrictions made in other countries as an excuse to justify similar changes in India, suggesting a subjugation of the intellectual sovereignty that Indians must maintain when legislating. The committee’s opinion of blindly following the ‘global trend’ to restrict freedoms suggests two elementary flaws made by the committee: 1) it shows that the committee’s process was not consultative enough, and 2) it shows how, with a single presumptuous sweep, the committee negates the civil liberty movements in the rest of the world that are fighting against such draconian state controls, and how, with equal contempt, the committee treats the collective intellect of the common Indian person. The committee is sure it knows what liberties India should and should not have.

The Menon Committee’s draft national policy emphatically suggests standardising exceptions into norms. On one occasion it quotes an anonymous lawyer, who, according to the committee, demands drastic changes in legal procedures to mandate that the accused, by law, ‘assist’ the court in testifying against himself / herself. To justify formulation of draconian state control in the name of security, the committee repeatedly uses the term ‘public expectation’ in reference to the duty of the state to provide security even at the cost of fundamental freedoms. However, in reality, the committee never approached the public to seek its views.

The policy document and those who drafted it lack the basic honesty expected of such proposals and bodies. They failed to point out the elephant in the room: that the problems affecting the criminal justice system in the country are deep-rooted corruption within the police and within all tiers of the judiciary; ineptitude; an assortment of crimes, including that of torture, committed by law-enforcement officers with impunity; lack of professionalism and any form of training and opportunities for enforcement officers to cultivate the same; and a close to non-existent prosecutorial framework.

There has been so far no attempt by the government to study these evils that have held the country’s justice apparatus at ransom. Without this, propounding that the public gift away their fundamental freedoms to guarantee security is nothing less than fraud upon the country. The only result will be ensuring the security of tenure for criminals in seats of power in the country. Unwillingness to end the aforementioned issues is what adversely affects justice administration in India. It is not a passive oversight, but an active pursuit, easily apparent if one only considers the minimal resources allocated to justice institutions; today, the judiciary is literally smothered out due to lack of adequate funds.

What is the security a citizen can expect when law-enforcement officers only attract deep contempt from the public and display shameless ineptitude in discharging their duties? What is the meaning of protection when police officers rob money and life out of the people and are more feared for rape and murder than street thugs? Where is the value of civilian law-enforcement when the officers mandated to enforce the law breach all laws possible? What is the meaning of ‘reform’, when the officers of the state who are to be reformed are forced to continue in the public perception as criminals in uniform?

Committees constituted to play background scores to a treachery, not advocating reforms where they are needed, and proposing to filch away even those few, but crucial, freedoms that protect common people today – with or without the protection of their state and its agencies – are the real security threat to the nation. Such committees would suggest anything required by those that constitute them. These committees have nothing in common with the larger mass of the country. They have no understanding of how ordinary Indians struggle daily to survive, protecting themselves from criminals in uniform.

Six or seven clandestine paper presentations held at universities, where the public has no access, cannot be the basis for the formulation of a national policy that could diminish fundamental freedoms in India. But the fact is, such a policy is now in place to be implemented and the term ‘public demand’ is used liberally in the policy document, as an excuse to justify parochial, restrictive and draconian changes to be brought into the national legal mainframe.

Security of life and property of the citizen is directly proportional to what is implied as ‘national security.’ Unlike exceptions of violence sponsored by anti-state entities, every day in the length and breath of the country, fundamental rights of the people are brutally violated by law enforcement agencies, especially the local police. Not a single attempt has been made in the country to criminalise violence committed by law enforcement agencies, often in the name of social control, and crime investigation.

Every police station in India routinely practices torture. It is performed publicly, without any form of legislative or practical control. Police officers and policy-makers equally believe that torture is an acceptable means of crime investigation. Just as it is done in the Menon Committee, the country has failed to treat this single fatal cancer, something that has rendered the entire police service in India as nothing more than a group of uniformed thugs lacking moral and operation discipline.

Conditions are far worse when it comes to paramilitary units stationed along the borders and in areas where they are deployed to assist state administrations, like in Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, and West Bengal. There is no data available in the public domain as to what actions are initiated upon complaints of human rights abuses committed by these forces. As per the information collated by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), there is little doubt that the Border Security Force (BSF) stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border is a threat to national security. They engage in crimes like rape, torture and extrajudicial execution in routine. The BSF is a demoralised and corrupt force that engages in all forms of corruption, including anchoring trans-border smuggling.

If national security is of any importance, law enforcement agencies must be held accountable, as must members of submissive and myopic committees that advance dangerous proposals, set to further harm lives of their country-men.

Information provided at the National Bureau of Crime Records for the past several years only advances this argument further. According to the Bureau, in 2011 there were only 72 reported cases of human rights abuses alleged against the police in the entire country. Out of this only 7 were cases of alleged torture. There were only 6 cases of illegal arrest and detention, and only 1 and 3 cases of alleged extortion were reported from Punjab and Delhi, respectively. In states like Assam, Bihar, Goa, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Sikkim and Tripura there were no cases of human rights abuses registered for the year! To say that the statistics mock reality would be an understatement.

India does need reform. It should begin with ending the practice of shameless lying.

# # #
For information and comments contact: 
In Hong Kong: Bijo Francis, Telephone: +852 – 26986339, Email: india@ahrc.asia

The statement can be accessed on the AHRC website at http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-STM-162-2012

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‘Assam police yet to achieve its legitimacy and lawfulness’, reports police body

April 22, 2012

The Sentinel published a report on 22 April 2012 on the findings and recommendations of the 2010 annual report of the Assam State Police Accountability Commission. The Bengali version of the report as published in the 23 April 2012 issue of the Dainik Prantojyoti can be seen here.

Will policing in Assam ever have a ‘‘humane face’’ in the real sense of the terms? When will the police really begin to behave as a service in a democracy, and not as a brutal, colonial-type force as it acts in many cases? When will ordinary citizens really feel they are being served by the police? These are inconvenient questions, but the police in a democracy must face them and evolve as a people-friendly force.

The issue of policing in Assam has become a much-talked-about subject these days. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had, on April 16, at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security in New Delhi, laid stress on ‘‘policing with a human face’’ in the State, which has seen militancy-related violence ebbing in recent times. The State Police Accountability Commission, in its annual report for 2010, has also given thrust on ‘‘democratic policing’’.

The annual report of the Accountability Commission prepared by Justice (retd) DN Chowdhury, who is also the chairman of the Commission,  states that ‘‘democratic policing is used to describe the characteristics of policing in a democratic State where police serve the people of the country, not a regime’’.

 The report has revealed that the State’s police force is ‘‘yet to change its attitude towards democratic policing’’ and ‘‘if the police is to achieve its legitimacy and lawfulness, it must seriously endeavour to become accountable to law’’.

Regarding the lodging of First Information Report (FIR) at police station, the report states that FIR is not registered at the first instance concerning issues relating to breach of trust, misappropriation of properties, and other issues. “Sometimes even if the FIR is registered, though belatedly, investigation does not take its due course with end result that the registration of the case becomes a mere formality to escape from the charge of serious misconduct,” adds the report.

On the issue of ‘‘general diary’’ maintained by the police, the report points finger at the Assam Police Act 2007 that has not been amended in order to make the general diary a legal instrument with its transparency at the level of thana/outpost activities, which is overdue. “The scope of enhancing police accountability is very wide in the general diary to be maintained having the force compatible with that of the RTI Act,” states the report.

“The general diary in respect of information of non-cog nature under the provision of CrPC 155 is one of the important indices of police performance at Thana/Outpost level. The Commission has observed that many of the complaints received by the Commission relate to non-registration of cases and refusal in the guise of non-cog to police. Hardly the police action is supported by the initial records as may be required under the provision of CrPC 155 to find mention in the general diary with advice to the complainant to approach the nearest judicial magistrate for ordering investigation of the non-cog cases by police,” states the report.

Wrath of police: Photo courtesy merinews.com

Wrath of police: Photo courtesy merinews.com

The report has also emphasized computerization as a strongest tool for transparency and accountability of the police to the law. “It is needless to emphasize that the right of the citizens will be better addressed by receiving FIR in the computer through networking having access to the general public,” adds the report.

Regarding supervision of cases registered against cops, the report states that such cases are invariably to be supervised and the cases should be dealt with newer provision in the ‘‘rule book’’ to be amended on a greater priority putting them even as special report cases. “The government should take suitable action in this regard and direct the Director General ofPolice,Assamto initiate proposal to the government accordingly,” says the report.

“In our earlier reports we also mentioned that the directives of the Commission for indicating the erring police personnel accountable were not taken in right spirit. Instead instances were found for out-manoeuvring our guidelines and directives. Setting up of the District Accountability Authority and the appropriate steps for creating awareness among the public are some of the issues which need to be addressed for effective functioning of the Accountability Commission and for greater benefit of the people,” says Justice DN Chowdhury in his report.


Source: http://www.sentinelassam.com/mainnews/story.php?sec=1&subsec=0&id=114551&dtP=2012-04-22&ppr=1#114551 accessed on 22 April 2012.


Reporter assaulted in Assam for exposing corruption in government works

April 10, 2012


Introduction:

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) is deeply concerned over an incident of assault of a reporter in Cachar district in Assam while he was returning home after collecting information and taking photographs of alleged irregularities in works under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (NREGA) in Borkhola development block area. The victim was severely beaten up that caused serious injuries including breaking of his teeth. The incident happened at a place a little away from a work site at Sonapur Gaon Panchayat (GP) on 28 February 2012.  The attackers were allegedly workers of a political party. Although the police registered a case against the attackers, instead of investigating the case, they registered another false case against the victim allegedly due to political interference. The victim is still traumatized and can not go out for work for fear of loss of limbs and life.

The case:

The BHRPC received a written communication from the victim Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiyan on 7 April 2012 giving details of the incident and other relevant information. Mr Barbhuiyan is aged about 34, son of late Basarat Ali Barbhuiya and a resident of village Chandpur Part-III under the jurisdiction of Borkhola police station (PS) in Cachar. He is presently working as a local correspondent with the Dainik Jugasankha, a local daily news paper published from Baidyanath Sarani, Rongpur, Silchar-9. He also does a part time job as an insurance agent with the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). It is also stated that Mr Barbhuiya also works as the president of a village level non-government organization named Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad that aims to work for equitable and sustainable development of the villages in Borkhola block particularly by ensuring proper implementation of the government rural development schemes. It is registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 vide No. RS/CA/243/G/32. However, the BHRPC could not thoroughly inquire into the works and activities of the NGO and its members.

According to the information provided by the victim, on 28 February he went out for works in the morning as usual. After the day’s work when he was returning home at about 9 pm some job card holders under the NREGA informed him that the GP president (elected head of the village level local government body) Ms Nazima Begum Laskar and its secretary Mr Shew Kumar Pandey caused deployment of Excavator and Tripper machines for soil excavation at the construction work of a village road from Dispur to Ashrab Shah Mukam in Sonapur GP and that the machines were at work at the time.

The work was sanctioned under the NREGA which is an Act of parliament ofIndiaenacted to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The use of machines in such works defeats the very purpose of the legislation. The operational guidelines for implementation of the law issued by the Ministry of Rural Development, the nodal ministry of the government ofIndiafor implementation of the Act, also categorically say that no contractors and machinery is allowed and a 60:40 wage and material ratio has to be maintained. Therefore, Mr Barbhuiya felt he was duty bound as a working journalist and social worker to capture the evidence of violations of law in camera. Accordingly he went to the work site immediately and shot some photographs.

 According to the information, after taking photographs when he reached Ashrab Shah Mukam a group of about 12 people led by one Liakat Ali Barbhuiya attacked him. Some of the attackers were identified by him as (1) Liakat Ali Barbhuiya, son of late Mujibur Rahman, (2) Abdul Mannan, (3) Jelu Mazumder, son of Gousul Mazumder, (4) Gousul Mazumder, (5) Anor Uddin, (6) Manjurul Haque, son of Nur Uddin, (7) Babul Ahmed, son of late Mujibur Rahman and other 4/5 unidentified persons. All of them are residents of village Sonapur under Borkhola police station and local workers of the congress party, the ruling political party inAssam. The victim stated that the attackers started beating him and continued to box and punch him till they broke one of his teeth and he fell unconscious. The victim alleged that the attackers then took away all his belongings including a camera (canon 14:4), a gold ring (4 Ana), two mobile handsets (Nokia 3110) with SIMs bearing numbers 9401311524 and 9854901235, one HMT wrist watch and Rs. 33,000.00 (thirty three thousand) cash of insurance premium that he collected that day and some important documents etc.

The victim further stated that when his senses returned he found himself confined in a nearby house belonging to one of the alleged attackers Gousul Mazumder and he sensed that they were preparing weapons to kill him. At this point in time the officer In-Charge (IC) of Bhangarpar police outpost Mr Robin Hazarika reached the spot who rushed after receiving information about the incident and rescued the victim but did not nab the attackers and recover the stolen stuffs and thus they fled away at his arrival. Mr Barbhuiya was then taken to a local hospital and later shifted to theSilcharMedicalCollegeand Hospital, Silchar (SMCH) where he was admitted in the surgery department and received treatment until he was released on 5 March.

The police officer told the victim that he needed to visit the police outpost in order that his complaint was registered while the victim was in severe need of urgent medical attention. Mr barbhuiya could not visit the outpost that night as he was at the Sonapur primary health centre (PHC). However, he managed to file a written complaint on 29 February at the Bhangarpar outpost. Still the police did not register the case promptly, let alone taking any actions. When the health condition of the victim deteriorated and he had to be rushed to the SMCH on 1 March and the police was repeatedly urged to take actions the Borkhola PS registered a case against the alleged attackers vide Borkhola PS Case No. 29/12 dated 1 March 2012 under sections 341, 326, 506, 379 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) for wrongful restraint, grievous hurt, criminal intimidation, theft and joint commission of the offences respectively. Sub-inspector of police Mr Robin Hazarika has been made the investigation officer (I/O) of the case.

Mr. Barbhuiya, however, alleged that even after registration of the case the I/O did not take any actions against the accused and investigation of the case did not proceed at all. No statements of the witnesses recorded. No stolen goods recovered. No arrest of the accused was made though they were roaming free. It is alleged that the police facilitated grant of pre-arrest bail of the accused persons from the Gauhati High Court by sending a biased and false report of the case to the court without investigations. After being repeatedly urged to take actions as per law, the officer told that he could not take any actions as he was asked by Dr Rumee Nath, the member of Assam legislative assembly (MLA) belonging to the ruling congress party and representing Borkhola constituency, not to take actions, the victim alleged in his written communication addressed to the BHRPC.

The victim further alleged that he believed that the attack on him was carried out at the behest of the MLA who wanted him to be killed because as a scribe he reported at different times stories containing allegations of corruption made by the people against her. He also mentioned that foundation stone of the particular NREGA work where he found violations of laws was laid by her and the local monitoring body is comprised of party workers loyal to her including the GP president and Liakat Ali Barbhuiya and some other attackers. However, when the BHRPC contacted Ms Nath for her side of the story she did not respond.

It is also alleged that under political influence the police registered a false case against the victim based on a complaint filed by one Ms Champarun Nessa (aged about 45 years) of village Sonapur Part-I vide Borkhola P.S. Case No. 30/12 under sections 341, 354, 376 and 311 of IPC on 1 March 2012. The sections invoked provide punishment for wrongful restraint, assault or criminal force on woman to outrage her modesty and rape. Although the case involves serious offence of rape the self-proclaimed rape victim was not medically examined and her statement was also not recorded by a judicial magistrate. The BHRPC believes that this case against Mr Barbhuiya is absolutely false and malicious filed with malafide intention of abusing the legal process to subvert the object of law, to weaken the case against the alleged attackers of Mr Barbhuiya, to harass and intimidate him. It goes against reasons and common sense that a person who sustained injuries amounting to grievous hurt within the meaning of section 326 of the IPC would be able to commit offence like rape soon thereafter. In fact, it has become a practice for unscrupulous influential persons to procure some complainants and cause registration of serious offences against human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists.

In view of the position and intent of the people against him and the negligence of the police in their duties and their abetment in harassing and intimidating the victim, he is apprehensive of more attacks and seriously concerned for his life and limbs and police harassment as well as for those of his family members and members of the Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad. He said he always feels that his life and liberty is at risk as the alleged perpetrators are at large and consequently he could freely move and work.

The rights:

The BHRPC thinks that the information reveals a prima facie case of violations of fundamental rights of the victim to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a), the right to practice profession of one’s choice guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g) and the right to security and physical and psychological integrity under Article 21 of the constitution of India as read by the Supreme Court of India. The non-investigation of his case by the police also entails violations right to truth, justice and reparation.

It is also a prima facie case of violations of human right ‘to freedom of opinion and expression’ as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948. The rights violated in this case are also guaranteed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 to whichIndia is a state party. This covenant including this Article is a part of the Human Rights Protection Act, 1993 by virtue of section 2 (1) (d).

It is obvious that the attack was carried out, if not to kill him, to take away the sense of security under which comfort Mr Barbhuiya works legitimately and peacefully both as a journalist and president of the Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad against corruption and irregularities in implementation of rural development scheme of the government for practical realization of the rights of the people, particularly their social and economic rights. These circumstances make the definition of human rights defender as understood in the context of the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (also known as the declaration on human rights defenders) applicable in the case.

Human rights works including socio-economic and cultural rights by peaceful and legitimate means are both duty and rights of every individual as spelt out in the declaration on human rights defenders. Particularly Article 12 of the declaration imposes duty on the State to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or dejure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present declaration.”

 The Protection of Human Rights Act also mandates the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to inquire, suo motu or on a petition presented to it by a victim or any person on his behalf, into complaint of (i) violation of human rights or abetment thereof or (ii) negligence in the prevention of such violation, by a public servant under section (a) 12. It is also the mandate of the NHRC to encourage the efforts of non-governmental organisations and institutions working in the field of human rights under clause (i) of the same section, which includes protection of defenders.

The actions:

In view of the circumstances the BHRPC wrote to the authorities including the prime minister ofIndia, the chief minister ofAssam, the president of the All India Congress Committee and the chairperson of the Press Council of India and also filed a complaint at the NHRC urging them to cause the relevant authorities:

 1. to conduct a prompt, objective and exhaustive investigation into the alleged assault on Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiya, failure of police to perform their legal duties in investigating the allegations and the role of MLA Dr Rumee Nath in the alleged violations of human rights;

 2. to take all necessary measures to protect the physical and psychological security and integrity of Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiya and his family and all members of Borkhola Gram Bikash Parishad and their families;

3. to provide adequate reparation in terms of monetary compensation to Mr Sibir Ahmed Barbhuiya for loss of his equipments, documents and other valuables and for suffering physical and mental agony;

 4. to guarantee that human rights defenders in Assam are able to carry out their legitimate human rights works without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including assault by goons and police harassment;

5. to guarantee that citizens and particularly the journalists in Assam are able to exercise their right to freedom of thought and expression without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions including assault by goons and police harassment.

10 April 2012

Guwahati,Assam

For any clarification or more information you may contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com

Bhuvan valley: Stay hungry and shut up

April 3, 2012

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

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar[1]

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

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

Those whose near and dear ones reportedly died of hunger and lack of medical care in Assam are now being told to shut up and say only what they are told to say. In a tea garden in the North East Indian state where more than 14 people died of hunger, malnutrition and lack of medical care are now being harassed and pressurized into signing papers stating that all is well with them. With the help of their husbands and other male members of their families, workers and helpers of the Anganwadi centres under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Cachar district took signatures of the labourers and other villagers on 31 March 2012 on a paper that stated that the beneficiaries were being provided with sufficient nutrition and other services as required under the scheme and that they did not have any complaint regarding functioning of the centres. They took signatures of particularly those residents who provided the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the local rights group that brought the cases of hunger deaths in the garden into the light, with information about their situation during its fact-finding study.
The BHRPC reported that the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a tea garden owned by a private company based in Kolkata, which employed about 500 permanent and another 1000 casual workers, was abandoned by the owners in October 8, 2011 without paying the workers their outstanding wages and other dues. It resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers and pushed them into the condition of starvation and famine that led to the deaths of ten people till 27 February 2012. According to the fact-finding report[2] issued on 1 February, the workers were deprived of their rights as they were forced to do overwork and were paid very low wages (Rs. 41.00 for casual workers and 50.00 to 55.00 for permanent workers) without being provided with any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages, provident fund and bonus suspended. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have not been implemented. In the course of closure, the government failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights to live with dignity. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor under the government schemes including the ICDS have not properly reached even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.
Family of a tea labourer in the Bhuvan valley tea garden live here. This is their home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

March 10, 2012

Two more deaths again in Bhuvan valley tea estate

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt about two more deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Cachar district inAssam. According to information, a 7 days old baby and about 70 year old Balaram Bauri of North Bank Division of the tea estate died on 6 and 7 March, 2012 respectively. Now the toll stands at 14 according to the confirmed information available with the BHRPC.

This tea garden owned by a Kolkata-based private company was closed from 8 October, 2011 to 8 February, 2012 and the labourers were abandoned by the owners. About 500 permanent labourers and more than this number of casual workers had not been paid their outstanding wages for 9 weeks, bonus for years and other statutory benefits including provident fund dues. There were no facilities of health care, drinking water and sanitation. Government public distribution system and other welfare schemes including Integrated Child Development Schemes were virtually non-functional. These circumstances led the labourers in a condition of starvation and malnutrition resulting in several deaths.

The BHRPC reported (the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1) 10 deaths on 1 February following its fact-finding study and claimed that the underlying and contributory causes of all deaths were starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care going by the definition of starvation and malnutrition 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 BHRPC again reported (see the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/) serious health condition of 43 other people of the tea estate on 11 February. Two people among them Belbati Bauri and Jugendra Bauri later died on 18 and 22 February respectively. This was also reported (see the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/) by the BHRPC on 23 February.

The deceased 7-days-old baby was daughter of Nikhil Bauri and Duhkia Bauri. After re-opening of the garden on 9 February, the garden hospital run under the National Rural Health Mission was revived but no qualified and permanent doctor and nurse have been appointed. There is also no electricity and water available. The Bauris had to go to the Primamry Health Centre at Sonai, a place about 20 km away from the garden, where Dukhia delivered an underweight baby and she fell seriously ill, according the garden sources.

Deceased Balaram Bauri, aged about 70, was a retired permanent worker of the tea estate.  He became weaker day by day and his body got swollen. His son Ranjit Bauri is a permanent labourer. Ranjit claims after re-opening of the garden on 9 February he was paid only Rs 460/- and was provided with 2 kgs of rice, 1.2kgs of flour per week at Rs 0.54 per Kg and additional amount at Rs 10/- per Kg. He said that he could feed his family 6 properly during the 4 months of the closure of the garden and even thereafter. According to him, his father died in condition of starvation and for lack of proper medical care.

It is to be noted that the Arunodoy Sanga, a non government organisation based in Silchar, held a health camp in the garden on 4 March. A team of 5 doctors from Civil Hospital, Cachar Cancer Hospital and Kalyani Hospital who reportedly examined around 500 patients of the tea garden corroborated the phenomenon of malnutrition stalking the workers and their families. Doctors recommended for immediate supply of nutritious food and sustained treatment of the labourers. No visible and reasonable steps have been taken by the authorities in this regard.

10 March, 2012

Silchar,Assam

For more information contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 94019 42234

(Read the first preliminary reportupdate iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update vi)

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

March 3, 2012

After the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) reported hunger deaths in a tea garden in Assam the state government has taken some actions, though they are inadequate and some of them are even misleading.

The BHRPC reported ( to see the reports click here and here) that 12 people died due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care in the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate in Cachar district since the owners closed down the estate on 8 October, 2011 and abandoned the labourers without paying their wages, bonus, provident fund dues and other benefits stipulated in the Plantation Labour Act, 1951. The government welfare schemes including the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 and Integrated Child Development Scheme as well as the Supreme Court directives issued in the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) vs Union of India & Others [Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001] which is also known as the right to food case not implemented properly.

The actions that have been taken by the government include 1. making the owners to reopen the garden on 9 February, 2012 after 4 months, 2. making the owners to pay a part of the due wages/salary and bonus, 3. a magisterial inquiry into the causes of some deaths, 4. making the owners to increase the wages a little and 5. forming one man inquiry committee to find out the factors that led to the deaths:

1. It is true that the garden has been reopened on 9 February at the instance of the district administration. However, the owners have not yet appointed a permanent manager to run the tea estate. No qualified and permanent doctor and nurse have been appointed in the NRHM run garden hospital. There is also no electricity and water available. There is only an ASHA, a pharmacist and a lab boy in the hospital. Health conditions of 43 people are bad and they have not yet received any medical attention.

The rationing of some staple food has also been started. However, according to the labourers, both the quality and quantity of the food items supplied are not up to the mark.

The factory is yet to be opened.

2. Only 50% of the outstanding wages has been paid and bonus for the year 2011 has been paid. According information, bonus for the year 2010 and 2009 are still outstanding along with remaining 50% of wages. Owners are yet to deposit their part of provident fund. Since the labourers incurred debt during the period of the closure after repayment of these debts they are not in position to spend towards medical treatment.

The labourers also told that since 2000 the owners have never constructed and repaired any dwelling house of the labourers. We have seen them living in dilapidated huts falling far below the requirements of the adequate housing within the meaning of the right to adequate housing.

3. A magisterial inquiry into the causes of some deaths was conducted. The inquiry concluded that these deaths have taken place due to causes other than that of starvation. It appears that the methodology of the inquiry has been asking a question and recording a reply without any independent witness. The BHRPC is constraint to say that this method does not stand much credibility.

It also appears that there is a lack of clarity in the sense of the terms starvation, malnutrition and death caused by them as used in the inquiry report. The BHRPC has relied on the definitions of starvation and malnutrition as given in the National Food Security Bill drafted by the National Advisory Council. There are some guidelines for investigation of starvation deaths prepared following relevant protocols of the World Health Organisation and other UN bodies. One such protocol is prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioners on the right to food. According to these guidelines, the modes of death and causes of death as well as various types of causes need to be separated to find out the actual cause of death.

Circumstantial evidences strongly suggest that underlying or contributory causes of all the deaths are starvation and malnutrition. There is no other explanation of the unusually high rate of death in this particular garden in this particular period. It is as if there is a steady continuous spell of death that even awaits the living.

More over, it is reported that the government admitted that for last 20 years the garden was not running properly and the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 was not followed and this led to the abject poverty of the labourers.

4. It is reported that a new wage structure for labourers of tea gardens of Barak valley was announced. According to this structure, effective from 1 January, 2012, the wage is fixed Rs 68 per day for one year. From 1 January, 2013, the daily wage would be Rs 72 and from 1 January, 2014, it would be Rs 75 per day. But the payment of the 50% outstanding wages that was made to the labourers of the Bhuvan valley tea garden is at rate of Rs 50 per day, instead of Rs 68. On the other hand, the labourers of the tea garden of Brahmaputra Valley in Assam are paid Rs 75 and their counterparts in Paschimbanga (West Bengal) are paid Rs 85 per day. This discrimination has no reasonable basis and in violation of equality clause of the Constitution of India as well as the norms of equal pay for equal works. The wages of all tea labourers of Assam should be same for the time being, though the labourers are demanding Rs 100 per day at the minimum for a long time.

5. A one man inquiry committee of additional chief secretary Mr. P K Choudhury has been appointed to find out the factors that led to hunger deaths and fix responsibility. In this connection it is to be noted that the Supreme Court has held that the chief secretary of the state is responsible for every starvation death that takes place in his state. An inquiry by a person who is a part of the state administration to determine whether these were starvation deaths or not falls within the prohibition of “nemo debet esse judex in propia causa”—no one should be judge in his own cause and this is a universally recognized rule of natural justice.

More over, right to truth and justice is a collective right of the people. Therefore, they must appear to have been rendered.

In view of the above and the assurance of the Chief Minister that he will spare no effort to ensure protection of human rights of every citizen and prevention of starvation deaths, the BHRPC is very hopeful and with lots of hope it suggests that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 March 2012, Guwahati

(Read the first preliminary reportupdate iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update vi)

Urgent Appeal: Two more tea garden workers in Assam die from starvation while the government denies responsibility

February 27, 2012

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

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

February 27, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERTS PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Update: AHRC-HAU-001-2012

27 February 2012

[RE: INDIA: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths]
———————————————————————
INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility

ISSUES: Right to food; starvation death; labor rights; right to health; safe drinking water
———————————————————————

Dear friends,

Mr. Jugendra as on February 9

Mr. Jugendra as on February 9

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information that two more residents of the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Assam died, having denied medical attention. Belbati Bauri in her 70s died on 18 February 2012 and Jugendra Bauri in his 50s died on 22 February 2012. (Please see the previous hunger alert raising human rights concerns regarding the food and health of the tea plantation workers.) On February 9, the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) visited the two residents and reported their critical condition to the administration, asking for prompt intervention, which the administration failed to make. The tea plantation restarted on February 9, but workers were only paid for three weeks than the nine-week payment due to them. No intervention to ensure their food and health security were made. The appointment of a permanent manager is yet to be made for the plantation, though it was promised by the district administration. At the moment, many more women and children living in the plantation face serious health issues that require attention.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

After the previous hunger alert was issued, the Bhuvan valley tea plantation restarted on February 9, but no administrative intervention was made to guarantee the rights of workers and their families. In the midst of such administrative neglect, two more people died on February 18 and 22.

As addressed in the previous hunger alert, workers and their families are deprived of access to adequate and sustainable food, medical health care, and other basic facilities to sustain life with dignity. They have no guarantee of minimum wages; of public health care or public food subsidy; access to safe drinking water or sanitation facilities in the plantation.

Belbati Bauri in her early 70s is the mother of Mr. Sricharan Bauri, a permanent worker of the tea estate and a resident of North Bank Division (Didarkhush) of the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district. When the BHRPC visited her on January 27 and February 9, they found that she was seriously ill. A complaint was made to the authorities, which was neglected. Having received no wages for about six months from the plantation, Sricharan could not afford to find proper medical treatment to his mother. No public medical health care is available to these plantation workers despite the law and policy guaranteeing it.

In fact, the low wage, about Rupees 50, paid to the workers, is far less than the statutory minimum wage. The Assam Minimum Wages Notification dated 12 October 2010 issued by the state government mandates minimum wages in the tea plantations of the state at the rate of Rupees 100, 110, and 120 for unskilled, semiskilled and skilled laborers respectively. The Rupees 50 wage paid to the plantation workers in this case do not allow them to access sufficient and nutritious food. Despite this Sricharan’s family is identified as living ‘Above the Poverty Line’ (APL) in India. Even after the tea estate owner stopped paying his wages, this economic category did not change. APL families are not entitled for any government subsidy targeted for the poor in the country. Thus for about six months, his family faced food scarcity in addition to their overall lack of health. This deteriorated his mother’s health in particular. Belbati Bauri died on 18 February.

Jugendra Bauri in his late 50s, also a resident of North Bank Division died on 22 February. He faced similar economic situations like Sricharan. When the BHRPC visited him in February, he was suffering from asthma. He was getting weaker having no means to obtain proper food and medical treatment. His body was swollen at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife Malati Bauri (55), son Rajib Bauri (25) and three daughters.

Despite a series of deaths reported from the plantation laborer families, the administration argues that those who lost their lives died from either ailment or due to old age. It is reported that the government of Assam has made a public statement that it had conducted an inquiry led by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Lakhipur, a sub-division of Cachar district in which the tea estate is located, into the allegations of starvation deaths at the tea estate taken up by the BHRPC. The report supports the administration’s argument that the deaths are not from starvation, but due to disease or age.

On 9 February when the BHRPC visited the workers and their families, BHRPC found 43 sick people in three out of ten divisions in the tea estate areas who were in urgent need of medical and nutritional support. Out of the 43, 19 were children and 13 women. They have various symptoms of acute malnutrition and starvation such as low appetite, stomach pain, gas, vomiting, swollen legs, face, hands and bodies, weak eyesight, hearing problem, skin diseases, weakness, dizziness, shivering, fever, and menstrual irregularity and other related problems among women. Some of them are asthmatic and suffer from hemoptysis.

The sick are not provided any medical care or nutrition even after the estate reopened. So far, apart from reopening the estate, no substantial steps are taken to ensure the basic rights of the workers and their families, including their right to food, appropriate wages, sanitation facilities and health. The workers were paid wages for three weeks instead of the nine weeks, which is due. The minimum wage is paid to none. All basic facilities guaranteed in the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 and in the in the Constitution are not provided. Even the Public Food Distribution Scheme (PDS) fails to reach the laborers. In addition, the owners are yet to appoint a permanent manager to run the tea estate.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The deceased or the sick in this case were never provided basic facilities to sustain life, neither were their grievances attended to. Most importantly, the low wage paid to estate workers — just about half of the statutory minimum wage — is their only source of income. Neither has the government, in the context of Assam’s tea plantation laborers, done anything so far other than the minimum wages legislation and notifications thereunder to fulfill its duty to guarantee every citizen’s right 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 as mandated in Article 11 and General Comment 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The constitutional guarantees in India precede ICESCR that among others ensure the right to food as a core element in realizing the right to life with dignity.

The methodology adopted by the government officials who conducted an inquiry by visiting the laborers and their families discloses that the administration is trying to hoodwink the people by limiting their enquiry to find whether the person was sick and how old the deceased was. Different officers made different conclusions regarding the cause of death. For instance Mr. Dev Mahanta, the District Collector of Cachar (Deputy Commissioner), reported on 19 January that according to information available to him from teagarden workers, the total number of hunger deaths is nine. Mr. D. P. Goala, a former minister of the Assam State Assembly and presently the elected legislative assembly member from Lakhipur constituency, who is also the General Secretary of the Barak Valley Cha Sramik Union, has reduced the number of deaths as just four. It is alleged that this is because Goala represents the political party in power in the state. Mr Phulan Ahmed Barbhuyan, a representative of the closed tea estate has denied reports of any death among the laborers from starvation or malnutrition. He justified the claim by arguing that most laborers from his estate have taken up other jobs and they do have an income. On 15 February, media reports claimed that the Government of Assam has denied all claims of starvation deaths from the region and has claimed that the deaths are due to natural causes.

An article authored by Ratnadip Choudhury, entitled “Did they die of hunger? The question haunts Barak Valley” reported in Tehelka provides additional insights into the present condition of life among the Assam tea estate laborers.

_________________________

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please express your concern about the two more deaths reported in this case from Assam. Please note that the government of Assam has failed to properly respond to the complaints so far made concerning the health, wage and other conditions of life among the tea estate laborers in Assam.

The AHRC is communicating separately to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to adequate food and on the right to health respectively seeking an intervention in the case.

To support this appeal, please click here: 

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

INDIA: Please pay compensation to the families of those who died from starvation in Cachar and guarantee their right to food and health

Name of the deceased:

1. Belbati Bauri, about 75 years old, a mother of Mr. Sricharan Bauri who was a permanent worker of the tea estate

2. Jugendra Bauri, about 58 years old, worker of the tea estate

Both were residents of North Bank Division (Didarkhush) of the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district

Date of incident: Since October 2011

Place of incident: Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, Cachar district of Assam state, India

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding two more deaths that occurred in Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate after reporting 10 deaths asking for proper intervention and attention.

Of the two persons who died, Belbati Bauri in her early 70s is the mother of Mr. Sricharan Bauri, is a permanent worker of the tea estate and a resident of North Bank Division (Didarkhush) of the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district. It is reported that on January 27 and February 9, Bauri was reported to be seriously ill. A complaint regarding this made by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) to the authorities was neglected. Having received no wages for about six months from the plantation, Sricharan could not afford to find proper medical treatment to his mother. No public medical health care is available to these plantation workers despite the law and policy guaranteeing it.

In fact, the low wage, about Rupees 50, paid to the workers, is far less than the statutory minimum wage. The Assam Minimum Wages Notification dated 12 October 2010 issued by the state government mandates minimum wages in the tea plantations of the state at the rate of Rupees 100, 110, and 120 for unskilled, semiskilled and skilled laborers respectively. The Rupees 50 wage paid to the plantation workers in this case do not allow them to access sufficient and nutritious food. Despite this Sricharan’s family is identified as living ‘Above the Poverty Line’ (APL) in India. Even after the tea estate owner stopped paying his wages, this economic category did not change. APL families are not entitled for any government subsidy targeted for the poor in the country. Thus for about six months, his family faced food scarcity in addition to their overall lack of health. This deteriorated his mother’s health in particular. Belbati Bauri died on 18 February.

The second person now reported dead from starvation is Mr. Jugendra Bauri who was in his late 50s. He is also a resident of North Bank Division who died on 22 February. He faced similar economic situations like Sricharan. When the BHRPC visited him in February, he was suffering from asthma. He was getting weaker having no means to obtain proper food and medical treatment. His body was swollen at the time of his death. He is survived by his wife Malati Bauri (55), son Rajib Bauri (25) and three daughters.

Despite a series of deaths reported from the plantation laborer families, the administration argues that those who lost their lives died from either ailment or due to old age. It is reported that the government of Assam has made a public statement that it had conducted an inquiry led by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Lakhipur, a sub-division of Cachar district in which the tea estate is located, into the allegations of starvation deaths at the tea estate taken up by the BHRPC. The report supports the administration’s argument that the deaths are not from starvation, but due to disease or age.

On 9 February when the BHRPC visited the workers and their families, BHRPC found 43 sick people in three out of ten divisions in the tea estate areas who were in urgent need of medical and nutritional support. Out of the 43, 19 were children and 13 women. They have various symptoms of acute malnutrition and starvation such as low appetite, stomach pain, gas, vomiting, swollen legs, face, hands and bodies, weak eyesight, hearing problem, skin diseases, weakness, dizziness, shivering, fever, and menstrual irregularity and other related problems among women. Some of them are asthmatic and suffer from hemoptysis.

The sick are not provided any medical care or nutrition even after the estate reopened. So far, apart from reopening the estate, no substantial steps are taken to ensure the basic rights of the workers and their families, including their right to food, appropriate wages, sanitation facilities and health. The workers were paid wages for three weeks instead of the nine weeks, which is due. The minimum wage is paid to none. All basic facilities guaranteed in the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 and in the in the Constitution are not provided. Even the Public Food Distribution Scheme (PDS) fails to reach the laborers. In addition, the owners are yet to appoint a permanent manager to run the tea estate.

The deceased or the sick in this case were never provided basic facilities to sustain life, neither were their grievances attended to. Most importantly, the low wage paid to estate workers — just about half of the statutory minimum wage — is their only source of income. Neither has the government, in the context of Assam’s tea plantation laborers, done anything so far other than the minimum wages legislation and notifications thereunder to fulfill its duty to guarantee every citizen’s right 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 as mandated in Article 11 and General Comment 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The constitutional guarantees in India precede ICESCR that among others ensure the right to food as a core element in realizing the right to life with dignity.

The methodology adopted by the government officials who conducted an inquiry by visiting the laborers and their families discloses that the administration is trying to hoodwink the people by limiting their enquiry to find whether the person was sick and how old the deceased was. Different officers made different conclusions regarding the cause of death. For instance Mr. Dev Mahanta, the District Collector of Cachar (Deputy Commissioner), reported on 19 January that according to information available to him from teagarden workers, the total number of hunger deaths is nine. Mr. D. P. Goala, a former minister of the Assam State Assembly and presently the elected legislative assembly member from Lakhipur constituency, who is also the General Secretary of the Barak Valley Cha Sramik Union, has reduced the number of deaths as just four. It is alleged that this is because Goala represents the political party in power in the state. Mr Phulan Ahmed Barbhuyan, a representative of the closed tea estate has denied reports of any death among the laborers from starvation or malnutrition. He justified the claim by arguing that most laborers from his estate have taken up other jobs and they do have an income. On 15 February, media reports claimed that the Government of Assam has denied all claims of starvation deaths from the region and has claimed that the deaths are due to natural causes.

I therefore urge you,

1. That those in urgent need for help due to non-payment of wages or the lack of employment in Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, Cachar district of Assam state are immediately provided social welfare facilities like food subsidy, medical care, safe drinking water without any delay;

2. That the wages due to the laborers are fully paid immediately;

3. That an enquiry be conducted to realistically assess the living conditions, pay and chances of rehabilitation of the tea estate laborers of the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate in particular and Cachar district in general, with the assistance and participation of organizations like the BHRPC;

4. The Government of Assam pays immediate interim compensation to the members of the families where members are reported to have died from starvation and malnutrition in Cachar district;

5. The government also undertakes an inquiry concerning the functioning of the District Medical Officer (DMO) Cachar, in relation to the starvation deaths reported from the district;

6. The DMO instructed to arrange for undertaking proper autopsy of the bodies of persons reported to have died from starvation at the Medical College Hospital, Guwahati, and the examination to be directed to clearly state the cause of death of the person and the report be made available to the families and a copy be sent to the National Human Rights Commission of India.

I look forward to your prompt response constantly monitoring your action.

Yours sincerely,
—————-
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

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

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

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

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

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

6. Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma
Minister of Health & Family Welfare
Guwahati, Assam
INDIA

7. Mr. Cautam Roy,
Minister of Public Health Engineering,
Guwahati, Assam
INDIA

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

Thank you.

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

Document Type :
Hunger Alert Update
Document ID :
AHRC-HAU-001-2012
Countries :
URL: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-001-2012(Read the first preliminary report, update i, update ii, update iii, update iv, update v,update vi)

Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden

February 23, 2012

Silchar

11 February, 2012

 Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt that health conditions of at least 43 more people are very bad in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Assam where, according to the BHRPC fact-finding report issued on 1 February (https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1/), 10 people died allegedly due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care during the 4 months period from 8 October 2011 to 8 February 2012 when the garden remained closed and the workers abandoned by the owners. Lack of medical care coupled with starvation and malnutrition put them at risk of lives. Conditions of some of them are very serious.

 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.

The BHRPC members again visited the Bhuvan valley tea garden on 9 and 10 February 2012 to asses the present situations of the labourers there. The garden was re-opened on 9 February and the labourers joined work as they were not left with any other options. Only 3 weeks’ wages were paid out of the 9 weeks’ wages that was long over due at the time of closure of the estate on 8 October last year. The labourers borrowed money or bought food items on credit during the 4 jobless months. They had to repay those loans and not in a position to procure food sufficiently. The garden owners or the administration did not provide them with any food items yet. They are still living in conditions of starvation and half-starvation.

The BHRPC was told that some medicines, particularly of cold and fever, were brought to the health centre in the garden but nothing so far has been distributed among the sick people. No labourer’s health was examined yet. The team met anther 43 sick people only in 3 divisions out of the total 10 divisions. BHRPC is concerned that the number of sick people are much bigger in the whole garden than the double of this number.  On 27 January the BHRPC team could have met only 5 sick persons and one among them died on the very next day (that is 28 January). Among these 43 people there are 19 children, 13 adult females and 10 adult males.

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

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

They have various symptoms such as low appetite, stomach pain, gastric, vomiting, swelling of lags, face, hands and bodies, body pain, low appetite, low vision, hearing problem, skin diseases, weakness, dizziness, shivering, fever, menstrual irregularity and problems and many other symptoms. Some of them have asthma, cough and blood cough. BHRPC is concerned hat if they are left untreated and unfed their condition will deteriorate and they may die.

On the other hand, the government of Assam is still denying occurrence of any starvation deaths in the garden even though they admitted the deaths but said that these were natural deaths caused by diseases and old-age describing the mode of death as a cause of death ignoring the underlying causes and they also admitted the situation of hunger prevailing in the garden.

BHRPC thinks there should be an independent commission of inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of a high court or the supreme court and comprised of independent medical expert, nutrition expert, labour rights expert and social activist among others to fix the culpability of those due to whose negligence, dereliction in duties and corruption the conditions of the starvation came about in the garden resulting in 10 deaths. The dependents of the deceased must also be provided a reasonable amount of reparation/compensation.

(Read the first preliminary reportupdate iupdate iiupdate iiiupdate ivupdate v,update vi)