Posts Tagged ‘Right to adequate housing’

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

April 5, 2012

Press statement                                                                                                                                                                                       

For Immediate release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

5 April 2012

 Guwahati

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

Bhuvan valley: Stay hungry and shut up

April 3, 2012

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

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHRC takes up Assam land-grabbing and destruction of forest case

March 30, 2012

Press statement

For Immediate release

30 March 2012

Silchar

NHRC takes up Assam land-grabbing and destruction of forest case

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took up the case of land-grabbing, diversion of forest land in Patharia reserve forest pushing around 300 families of forest dwellers into the condition of starvation and homeless. The human rights watchdog of the nation registered case in the matter as case number 99/3/10/2012 on a complaint filed by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) after it conducted a fact-finding study of the situation. Along with the NHRC the BHRPC also wrote other authorities including the prime minister,Assamchief minister, union forest and environment minister and others.

The (BHRPC) informed the authorities that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of Assam have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen allegedly in connivance with the local politician and minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly for rubber plantation in a Pecharpar, Satkorgul, Mokkergul, Bhitorgul and other villages where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail.

The BHRPC found that it was prima facie a case of diversion of forest land for non-forest commercial purpose of rubber plantation as well as a case of criminal trespass and taking illegal possession of land held by both the department of environment and forest in Patharia reserve forest and the villagers of Pecharpar under titles of farag and uninterrupted possession for generations that are good against the whole world violating the community rights of protection of environment and ecological balance and individual right to lead a life with dignity. The Silchar-based rights group contended that the activities are in flagrant violations of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as interpreted and applied by the Supreme Court of India in orders passed from time to time in T N Godavarman Thirumuilpad Vs Union of India and Others (WP (C) No 202 of 1995). The BHRPC further contended that the people who have been living in and holding the forest land for generations are “other traditional forest dwellers” within the meaning of clause (o) of section 2 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known as Forest Rights Act– FRA) and they are entitled to all the rights enumerated in sub-section (1) of section 3 of the FRA including the right to hold and live in the forest land under the individual or common occupation for habitation or for self-cultivation for livelihood. It is also alleged that the criminal activities against the villagers with the alleged support of the minister constitute violations of fundamental rights guaranteed in Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution ofIndia and human rights enshrined in many international human rights instrument to whichIndia is a state party.

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

For more information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 9401942234

Forest dwellers deprived of livelihood and facing forcible eviction in Assam

March 22, 2012

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

Introduction:

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has learnt that around 300 families of traditional forest dwellers in and around Patharia forest reserve in Karimganj district of the North East Indian state of Assam have forcibly been deprived of their sources of livelihood and now living under severe threat of imminent eviction from their dwelling houses by some businessmen allegedly in connivance with the local politician Minister of state for co-operation and border areas development in the government of Assam Mr Siddeque Ahmed. The accused persons grabbed the land measuring approximately 130 hectares (330 acres) reportedly for rubber plantation in a village where the families of the forest dwellers have been living for generations depending on the forest produces for livelihood. The forest dwellers were asked to leave the areas soon and threatened with murders, rape and jail. The BHRPC is deeply concerned over the situation of the poor forest dwellers.

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

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

Facts on the Ground:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log of a tree cut down in the village

Log of a tree cut down in the village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cattle looking for grass in a burnt out hillock

Cattle looking for grass in a burnt out hillock

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

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

Legal Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations:

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

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

 

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

(Read update 1)

For more information please contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com

Mobile: 0 94019 42234


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reports on starvation deaths in Assam

March 17, 2012

Tea Labourers dying of hunger in Assam

Residents of a tea garden in South Assam are dying reportedly of hunger, malnutrition and lack of medical care. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) has so far learnt about 14 recent deaths, prima facie, caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper medical care in the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a tea garden owned by a private company based in Kolkata, in the district of Cachar in North-East Indian state of Assam. As the Tea Estate, in which about 500 permanent and another 1000 casual workers were working, was closed down in October 8, 2011,  they lost their jobs and till 27 February 2012 ten workers lost their lives. According to the fact-finding report issued by the BHRPC on 1 February, the workers have been deprived of their rights as they were forced do overwork and were paid very low wages without being provided any medical treatment while working and, after closure, had the payment of their wages and their provident fund suspended. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have not been implemented. In the course of closure, the government failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor have not reached those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it is one of the causes leading to the deaths.  Even after the publication of the disturbing report the authorities did not take any actions except re-opening of the garden on 9 February and denial of starvation deaths. Therefore, the situation continued to worsen. The BHRPC again on 11 February reported the critical health conditions of 43 other people. Among them two more people died on 18 and 22 February which was also reported by the BHRPC. The Chief Minister of Assam wrote a letter on 29 February giving details of actions taken by the government while at the same time he said that these deaths were not caused by starvation without any proper inquiry. Assam government’s actions were, at beast, inadequate and misleading,said the BHRPC in a statementOn the other hand, deaths continue unabated in the tea garden and on 10 March the BHRPC reported two more deaths. Thereafter also the tragedy continues and another worker died on 3 May.

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

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

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)

Two more people died in Assam tea garden

February 23, 2012
People gathered around the dead body of Jugendra Bauri for the last rites on 22 February

People gathered around the dead body of Jugendra Bauri for the last rites on 22 February

Guwahati, 23 February: Two more people died in the Bhuvan valley tea garden of Assam, a tea estate owned by a Kolkata based private company, raising the toll of poverty to 12. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) received information that Belbati Bauri died on 18 February and Jogendra Bauri died on 22 February in the garden 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.

Belbati Bauri on 9 February 2012 who died on 18 February 2012

Belbati Bauri on 9 February 2012 who died on 18 February 2012

Belbati Bauri (told to be of about 70 to 75), wife of late Debendra Bauri, was a former labourer of the tea estate and a resident of North Bank Division (Didarkhush) of the Bhuvan valley tea estate in Cachar district. BHRPC members visited her on 27 January and again on 9 February. The team found her very ill, week, pale. After both the visit the BHRPC reported her condition. But authorities did not provide any medical help or food support. Although her son Sricharan Bauri was a permanent labourer in the estate, he was not getting any ration, medicine or wages for last six months. Ironically they were regarded as being above poverty line (APL) family, and therefore, were not eligible for government schemes meant for the poor. According to them, other support provided by the Public Distribution System (PDS) did not reach to them properly. Other members of the family, including a young girl Moni Bauri, are trying to survive by collecting firewood from jungle and selling them for food and medicine ignoring study. Belbati left five other people in the family.

Jugendra Bauri  talking to BHRPC members on 9 February 2012. He died on 22 February.

Jugendra Bauri talking to BHRPC members on 9 February 2012. He died on 22 February.

Jugendra Bauri (aged between 55 to 60), S/o Indra Bauri, was also a resident of North Bank Division. He was also a labourer of the garden.  He told the BHRPC team when they met him on 9 February that he had been suffering from asthma for some time. He looked very weak and pale. Lately he host appetite and his body became swollen. He left behind him his wife Malati Baori (55), son Rajib Baori (25) and 3 daughters.

BHRPC team met 43 sick people on 9 February in 3 divisions out of the total 10 divisions in the garden who were in need of urgent medical and nutritional support.

Although the garden has been re-opened on 9 February after the BHRPC reported the deaths, the authorities have still not taken any positive actions in terms of providing urgent medical and food support, improving working conditions, improving implementation of government welfare schemes and PDS or fixing responsibilities for the situation and payment of compensation to the kin and dependents of the deceased.

More over, it is reported that the owners have not yet appointed a permanent manager to the garden. The owners during their negotiation meetings with the Cachar district administration and the workers’ union, had promised that a permanent manager would be appointed to run the garden. Apart from this, they had promised to revive the garden hospital and reopen the factory. But it’s sad that even now no such steps were taken.

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