Posts Tagged ‘Hunger deaths’

The price of tea from death valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is less picturesque up close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is still failing them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human Rights in India: Status Report 2012

June 3, 2012

Human Rights in India: Status Report 2012

This brief status report of human rights in India gives a general overview of the most critical human rights issues in India today. It has been drafted by the Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), a platform of some of Inida’s important human rights groups, as a background document to assist in the preparation of India’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that took place in Geneva on 24 May, 2012.

The UPR is a unique process conducted by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC), involving a review of the human rights record of all 192 UN Member States once every four and a half years.

The WGHR submitted a stakeholders’ report to Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in November 2011. The present report is a more detailed and comprehensive version of WGHR’s stakeholders’ report that includes:

Information gathered from five regional and one national consultation held with civil society across India from August to October 2011;

Case studies that illustrate the text of the report;

WGHR’s initial response to the Government of India’s national report to the second UPR;

An up-to-date analysis of the status of implementation of the 18 recommendations made to India during the first UPR.

It is amply evident from the report that much remains to be done to improve the human rights situation inIndia. The scope of the UPR is enormous as it covers all recognised international human rights. If we take almost any of these human rights, the situation inIndiaremains challenging; yet the scope for improvement is immense. If the required positive changes are to take place, however, a radical change in national and regional actions by governments at all levels is necessary. The report highlights some of these required changes.

The opportunity offered byIndia’s second UPR at the HRC should not be underestimated. The clear direction that can emanate from the second UPR’s recommendations largely depend, however, on the approach adopted by the Indian delegation during the UPR in May 2012. We all look forward to a shift away from the defensive posture adopted byIndiain the first UPR to a constructive engagement with the HRC. Such an engagement can only prove fruitful if the deliberations during the UPR debate and the resulting recommendations are placed within the space of the recognition of human rights (through laws, policies, administrative actions and budgetary allocations) and their implementation.

We hope this report will contribute to such a debate at the HRC.Indiamust meet the human rights accountability challenge posed by the contents of its own Constitution and the international human rights instruments it had ratified. To meet this enormous challenge, nothing but a radical shift in economic, security and social policy is needed. It is hoped thatIndia’s second UPR will provide solid recommendations to make such a radical change possible, which is urgently required to reverse the adverse human rights situation faced by a significant part of the people ofIndia.

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC, though is not a formal member of the WGHR, participated in the preparation of the report. Dr Prasenjit Biswas and Mr Waliullah Ahmed Laskar took part in the North East regional consultation held in Shillong and the former represented the BHRPC in the national consultation in New Delhi. Along with reports on starvation deaths of tea labourers in Assam the BHRPC also provided inputs in other subjects.

The report can be downloaded from here and from the WGHR website.

NHRC pulls up Assam over hunger deaths and rights violations

May 29, 2012

Guwahati, 29 May 2012: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) pulled up the government of Assam over hunger deaths of tea labourers and other cases of human rights violations. In its camp sitting in Guwahati held on 28 May 2012 the NHRC heard about 50 pending cases relating to Assam state of North East India.

’Out of 17 cases, which the full commission heard, at least 6 cases were closed after the commission got satisfactory answers from the state authorities. In the other cases, the commission has given time to the authorities to respond to its recommendations. The commission recommended about rupees (Indian currency) 1.8 million (18 lakh) as monetary relief in different cases of human rights violations’, NHRC said in a release to the press.

‘In the matter relating to starvation deaths in the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district, the commission has asked the state government to pay rupees 0.2 million each to the two tea garden workers and rupees 0.1 million (1 lakh) each to about 13 dependents of the workers who died due to starvation. The Commission has also directed the state government to inquire whether the Tea Association of India (TAI) was distributing the food grains properly among the workers or not’ said the NHRC. The government provides the tea workers with food items from the Public Distribution System (PDS) through the TAI which is not favorably seen by the commission.

The NHRC release further stated that in a case relating to rehabilitation of children rendered orphan or destitute in communal riots in upper Assam districts, the commission asked the state government to identify the child victims without any further delay and give financial assistance to them and sent compliance report along with proof of payment within eight weeks. The Commission observed that it is the negligence of officers that led to orphaned children not getting timely assistance despite the fact that so many years have past since the riots.

In the cases relating to force prostitution of three women in Cachar district, the commission asked the state government to pay rupees one lakh each to the three victims. The government was also asked to inquire whether there was any organized activity going on in the state ofAssamto bring girls from Meghalaya to Cachar and Silchar and forced them into prostitution. The authorities have been asked to take action against the guilty.

On the issue of witch hunting, the state authorities admitted that this practice is prevalent in backward and distantly located places. During last five years, about 88 women and over 40 men  became victims of such incidents. The commission has asked the state authorities to create awareness among people and strive for fast investigation and speedy trial in incidents of witch hunting to at the deterrent.

The commission also heard encounter and custodial death cases in its two division benches and asked the police authorities to scrupulously adhere to its guidelines and submit all the reports to the commission timely for early disposal of such cases.

The Assam based human rights group Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), the group that has been reporting the starvation deaths of tea workers and fighting for their cause and complainant in several other cases, said that this move of the NHRC to dispose of pending cases expediently and to reach out to the remote areas in a bid to sensitize the government officials and talk with the civil society groups are great steps and have been long overdue. This will go a long to protect rights of the people encouraging the independent human rights defenders and the recommendations and observations of the NHRC will work as strong disincentive to the potential violators among the officials.

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

May 21, 2012

Dear friends,

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

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

 Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 Further information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

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

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

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More information:

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

 

BHRPC reports on the continuous tragedy in Bhuvan valley tea estate

1. Preliminary fact-finding report:

            Tea labourers dying of hunger in Assam

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

 

2. Update-I:

 

            Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden

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

3. Update-II:

             Two more people died in Assam tea garden

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

4. Update-III:

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

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

5. Update-IV:

             Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

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

6. Update-V:

             Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

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

 

Reports and actions by other organizations:

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

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

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

2. Update on the AHRC Hunger Alert:

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

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

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

            Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

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

 

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

1. 19 January 2012:

            Inquiry into Cachar hunger deaths

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

2. 5 February 2012:

Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths

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

3.  9 February 2012:

            Tea workers die of starvation

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

            Rights group seeks prove into starvation deaths

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

4. 21 February 2012:

Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea

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

5. 25 February 2012

Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley

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

6. February 2012:

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

7. 5 March 2012:

            Team of doctors confirm malnutrition of tea workers

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

8. 13 March 2012

Dispur rap on garden for deaths

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

9. 1 April 2012:

Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF

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

10. 4 April 2012:

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

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

11. 18 May 2012

            The dark side of India’s tea industry

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

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Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

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Guwahati, Assam

21 May 2012

Fore any clarification or further information contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com

Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

May 8, 2012

Press statement

For Immediate release

Date: 8 May 2012

Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For any clarification or further information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: 09401942234

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com

Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

April 27, 2012

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

The preliminary report that they have issued is posted here.

CIVIL SOCIETY INQUIRY REPORT OFBHUBANVALLEYTEA ESTATE DEATHS

CACHAR:ASSAM

PRESS RELEASE

Introduction

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

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

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

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

 Background

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

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

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

Findings

Livelihood

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

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

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

Wage

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

The people do not have any other source of income.

Health

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

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

Drinking Water& Sanitation

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

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

People are undernourished and prone to various diseases.

Women are anemic. Children are malnourished.

 VIOLATION OF LEGAL PROVISIONS

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

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

DEMANDS

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

  1. extra allocation of pds ration

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

  1. Immediate and proper medical support

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

  1. Drinking water facilities

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

.

  1. Management

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

  1.  IMPLEMENTATION of supreme court order

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

  1. Entitlement

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

  1. Provident Fund

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

SIGNATORIES

  1. WILFRED TOPNO                                         2. STEPHEN EKKA

President Adivasi Sahitya Sabh                           Director, PAJHRA

  1. SAITO BASUMATARY                               3. GODFREY HERE

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

  1. REJAN HORO

Organizing secretary, AASAA

Central committee

Annexure(1)

Death list

Death ListLbetween Oct 2011 to Feb 22.

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

17th Jan

  1. Belboti Bauri
F 75 North Bank Division

18th Feb.2012

  1. Jugendara Bauri
M 55 North Bank, Division

22nd Feb.2012

Situation in the Barak valley Tea Garden

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

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

ooooooo

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

.

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)