Posts Tagged ‘Special Rapporteur’

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.
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UN envoy asks India to repeal AFSPA and other draconian laws

March 30, 2012

Press Statement – Country Mission to India Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 19 – 30 March 2012

 

At the invitation of the Government of India, I conducted an official visit to this country from 19 to 30 March 2012. I travelled toNew Delhi, as well as to five States, namely: Gujarat; Kerala;Jammu and Kashmir, where I had meetings in the cities ofJammuandSrinagar;Assam; andWest Bengal.

I am grateful to the Government of India for extending an invitation to my mandate. I am further particularly thankful to the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr. Patrice Coeur-Bizot, and his team, for having facilitated the preparation and conduct of my mission.

During this country visit, I had the opportunity to meet with Secretaries from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Law and Justice, officials from the Ministry of Defence and other Ministries at Union level. At State level, I met the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, State Chief Secretaries and other Secretaries; Commissioners, Directors General and other relevant officers of the Police; and other senior officials. I also visited the Supreme Court, the National Human Rights Commission and the Assam Human Rights Commission. In addition, I held meetings with the United Nations agencies, as well as a wide range of domestic and international non-governmental organisations, lawyers, witnesses, and victims and their families.

My mission focussed in particular on the right to life in the context of the use of force by the police and the armed forces, and on the possible impact on the right to life of cultural practices.

My provisional conclusions are as follows:

A) General comments

India, often described as the world’s largest democracy, has a Constitution that guarantees a wide range of human rights, and is a living document, supported by broad public endorsement and enforced by a strong Supreme Court, whose human rights jurisprudence is respected worldwide. The right to life (article 21 of the Constitution) in particular has been given an extensive interpretation by the courts.

There is a robust press, and a vibrant and engaged human rights civil society.Indiahas ratified a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

At the same timeIndiafaces many challenges to the realisation of human rights, including movements aimed at separation or greater local autonomy, Maoist or Naxalite, insurgency, organised crime, and communal organisations opposed to secularism, plurality and equality.Indiaaccommodates a huge diversity in terms of religion, languages and culture, largely in a remarkably peaceful way.  The state structure is federal in nature.

The challenge to protect, promote and respect the right to life is undeniably a real one. It is of concern however that despite constitutional guarantees and a robust human rights jurisprudence, extrajudicial killings is a matter of serious concern inIndia. However, it is important to emphasise the solution to these issues largely lies within the system itself.

While data available on extrajudicial executions inIndiais not easy to obtain, in some parts, particularly in conflict areas where political dialogue has been initiated by the government, or where there has been a concerted shift to move away from such occurrences, the last couple of years appear to have seen a drop in respect of unlawful killings. This momentum – and the general commitment to human rights in the country – should now be captured to obliterate the unacceptable levels of deadly violence that remain, and assume higher moral ground.

While I will make some concrete proposals about changes to be affected, I will also propose a process to be followed to address this issue.

Indiahas not hosted many Human Rights Council special procedures. In 2011 it extended an open invitation to special procedures, and to its credit it admitted, for the first visit under this open invitation, the mandate on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, a mandate covering an area in which it faces well-documented challenges. This reflects a commendable willingness to engage with the issue of unlawful killings in a constructive manner – giving further credence to the view that there may at the moment be a window of opportunity to take significant and decisive steps forward on this issue.

B) Concerns

I have the following concerns about unlawful killings, both in terms of prevention and accountability:

  1. Use of force by State actors

a) Police

There are complaints of use of excessive force by the police against unarmed demonstrators and protestors, with scant adherence to the principles of proportionality and necessity.

Disproportionate use of force during demonstrations has resulted in over 100 deaths, in 2010 inJammu and Kashmir, while elsewhere, such as inNew Delhi, many demonstrations occur without bloodshed. I have been told by the police of a few states that they have recently started using less lethal weapons and other more modern methods of crowd control.

Salutary guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in the D.K.Basu judgment on arrest, detention and interrogation, many of which have been incorporated through amendments in the Code of Criminal Procedure, are not sufficiently complied with.

Significantly, problems concerning excessive and arbitrary use of force by the police are further aggravated by statutory immunities that restrict accountability.  Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires prior sanction from the concerned government before cognizance can be taken of any offence by a public servant for criminal prosecution.

A practice of what is called ‘fake encounters’ has developed in parts of the country. Where this occurs, suspected criminals or those labelled as terrorists or insurgents, and in some cases people on whose head there is a prize, are shot dead by the police, and a scene of a shootout is staged. Those killed are then portrayed as the aggressors who had first opened fire and the police escape legal sanction. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 2 965 cases of ‘encounters’ have been reported between 1993 and 2010, though there is possibly under-reporting.

While the use of ‘encounters’ to eliminate criminals has decreased since the 1990s, it is nevertheless being deployed to target others.

A seminal case from Andhra Pradesh is currently pending before the Supreme Court wherein the High court had held that in situations where deaths occur at the hands of police in cases of alleged returning fire, a first information report (FIR) must be registered, the case investigated and the claim of self-defence by the police proven in a trial before the court.

In a positive development, the Supreme Court and the NHRC have issued guidelines on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and on encounters.

b) Custodial deaths

There have been a large number of cases recorded on deaths that have occurred in police as well as judicial custody, often in the context of torture.  I have been assured by Government representatives that the process of passing the legislation on torture as proposed by the Select Committee of the Upper House is well under way, which will allow the ratification of the Convention Against Torture. Needless to say this proposed legislation must be compliant with CAT and must include the mandatory provisions of training of police, prison cadre and other forces as well as orientation of the judiciary.

c) Armed Forces

The Armed Forces are deployed in so-called ‘disturbed areas’ in the North East and inJammu and Kashmir.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in effect allows the state to override rights in the ‘disturbed areas’ in a much more intrusive way than would be the case under a state of emergency, since the right to life is in effect suspended, and this is done without the safeguards applicable to states of emergency. ^

AFSPA – continuously in force since 1958 (different states have their own versions as well) in the North East and since 1990 inJammu and Kashmir– has become a symbol of excessive state power. I have heard extensive evidence of action taken under this law that resulted in innocent lives being lost, inJammu and Kashmirand inAssam, where witnesses from neighbouring states also assembled. This law was described to me as ‘hated’ and a member of a state human rights commission called it ‘draconian’.

A law such as AFSPA has no role to play in a democracy and should be scrapped. The repeal of this law will not only bring domestic law more in line with international standards, but also send out a powerful message that instead of a military approach the government is committed to respect for the right to life of all people of the country.

The government-appointed Jeevan Reddy Committee and the Administrative Reform Commission have both called for its repeal; as have political leaders of states where the Act applies. The NHRC told me during our meeting that they are in favour of its repeal and that they have commented in their submission to the 2012 UPR that AFSPA often leads to the violation of human rights. It is therefore difficult to understand how the Supreme Court, which has been so progressive in other areas, also concerning the right to life, could have ruled in 1997 that AFSPA did not violate the Constitution – although they tried, seemingly with little success, to mitigate its impact by issuing guidelines on how it is to be implemented.

AFSPA clearly violates International Law.  A number of UN treaty bodies have pronounced it to be in violation of International Law, namely HRC (1997), CEDAW (2007), CERD (2007) and CESCR (2008). My predecessor has also called for its repeal.

The widespread deployment of the military creates an environment in which the exception becomes the rule, and the use of lethal force is seen as the primary response to conflict with a concomitant permissive approach in respect of the use of lethal force. This is also difficult to reconcile in the long run withIndia’s insistence that it is not engaged in armed conflict.

Accountability is circumvented by invoking AFSPA’s requirement of obtaining prior sanction from the Central government before any civil prosecutions can be initiated against armed forces personnel. The information received through Right to Information applications, shows that this immunity provision effectively blocks any prosecution of members of the armed forces. The Centre has for example never granted sanction for civil prosecution of a member of the armed forces inJammu and Kashmir.

d) Death penalty

Indian law continues to provide for the death penalty, and in around 100 cases per year this sentence is imposed. However, once imposed, there seems to be little appetite to execute. The last execution was in 2004, although another execution has just been stayed at the last minute during the writing of this report.

It is a matter of concern that the death penalty may be imposed for a (seemingly growing) number of crimes that cannot be regarded as ‘the most serious crimes’ referred to in article 6 of the ICCPR  as internationally understood, namely crimes involving intentional killing. For example, the death penalty may be imposed for kidnapping for ransom under Sec. 364A IPC and has also been proposed in the Prevention of Torture Bill and for drug-related offences. I intend to follow up on the concerns expressed that the categories of capital crimes are being expanded.

The phrase ‘rarest of the rare cases’ (taken from Bachan Singh v State of Punjab) is often used to describe the Indian approach to the death penalty. However, this may create the wrong impression, since the list of crimes for which this sentence may be imposed is still much wider than the one provided for under international law. Even if the death penalty is not implemented, those who had been sentenced to death remain on death row for extraordinarily long periods, while, as one interlocutor put it, ‘they remain hanging there’.

My attention was drawn to the case of Ravji alias Ram Chandra v. State of Rajasthan (1996) 2 SCC 175, where the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence and held that circumstances pertaining to the criminal need not be considered, in spite of earlier authority to the contrary. Subsequently, in seven cases, the Supreme Court invoked the precedent of Ravji Rao’s case to foreclose inquiry into the circumstances pertaining to the prisoner. A total of 14 prisoners were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court on the basis of flawed legal reasoning. Out of these 14 prisoners, two – including Ravji – have been executed.

2) Use of force by non-state actors

a) Terrorists, criminals and others

Deadly violence has been used by Maoists, insurgents, and terrorists. The callous nature in which lives, often of innocent civilians, are taken by these non-state actors needs to be condemned strongly. The state has a right to defend itself against such aggression, provided it abides by the international standards in this regard. The state however cannot adopt unlawful or unconstitutional means or create a vigilante force to counter such violence.

b) Communal violence

I have heard evidence regarding a number of instances where inter-community violence has occurred, resulting in large-scale loss of life. In particular I have met with a large number of people who lost relatives during theGujaratkillings of Muslims in 2002 and the Kandhamal killings of Christians in 2007/8, during which between 1200 – 2500 people and between 50 and 100 people, respectively, were reportedly killed. It is a matter of regret that theGujaratauthorities at the last minute cancelled the meetings we had scheduled during the mission.

In these cases grave allegations of direct state involvement in the killings has been made; moreover in all cases the state has the responsibility to protect citizens against such violence.

The phenomenon of mass and targeted communal violence clearly poses a significant threat to the right to life, also because it sets into motion a cycle of violence that stretches over the years. One of the problems here is that the role of the police and other agencies of the state in these situations could involve bias against minorities. I will further examine this issue.

A number of people have proposed the introduction of the doctrine of some form of ‘command responsibility’ and ‘superior responsibility’, in domestic law, to hold culpable persons in positions of political, civil and administrative power and authority, complicit in the communal violence. I will also examine this matter further.

c)  Traditional practices affecting women

‘Honour’ killings occur where a woman is killed by her family or community because she has exercised her right to choose a partner, particularly when the partner belongs to a different community, caste or religion. This crime is reportedly on the ascendance.  It is currently dealt with as murder under the Indian Penal Code.  There have been suggestions that this be dealt with under a separate piece of legislation so as to highlight the unique nature of such killings.

Dowry deaths occur where a husband or his relatives are dissatisfied by the amount of dowry brought by the wife, and cause her death.  Special legal provisions have been enacted to punish this crime in the Indian Evidence Act. The unnatural death of a wife within seven years of marriage, under suspicious circumstances, including burning or other bodily injuries, and where she is known to have been harassed and treated cruelly  by her husband or his relatives on account of dowry,  creates a presumption that a dowry death has been committed by the husband or his relatives.

The branding of elderly and single women as witches, while largely associated with tribal areas is no longer confined to these regions. Property reasons often underlie these killings.

This is a difficult area for any state to address. While accountability and punishment is important in the context of the above gender-based killings, it is not clear that increasing the punishment, however severe, will lead to prevention. Ensuring certainty of conviction and some form of consequence to establish the norm seems to be more important. This is often difficult for a host of reasons, including the fact that there is general social sanction for the crime, and the police often do not address these killings as crimes. The values at stake are often viewed as more important than life itself. A change in the values themselves is therefore required, a task for which an institution such as the NHRC should be eminently suited.

3) Systemic challenges

a) Justice delayed is justice denied

The complaint is widely raised that the wheels of justice, when they turn, often do so too slowly. Legal proceedings drift for years, while the alleged perpetrators are out on bail and back in the community. The Nanavati Commission of Inquiry inGujarathas now taken 10 years without any concrete results. This is exacerbated by the symbolic importance of the events that are being investigated, and inevitably the conclusion will be drawn that this is not a matter of priority. Similarly, the Supreme Court in 2006 issued a directive for the establishment of Police Complaints Authorities, but in many cases this has not been done.

b) Perpetrators receive awards

Many of the people I interviewed whose family members had been killed, pointed out that the alleged perpetrators, belonging to the police or the armed forces, have been awarded out of turn promotions, or have in other ways been rewarded.

c) Compensation instead of prosecution

While in some cases of custodial death and death due to excessive use of force compensation is paid by the state, criminal investigation and prosecution against the perpetrators is rarely initiated. Consequently few if any are punished for violating the right to life. This is also a manifestation of a military as opposed to a rights based approach. It blunts the deterrent effect of the law and encourages impunity.

d) Burden on the victim

The burden of initiating civil, criminal or writ proceedings in cases of custodial deaths or ‘encounter’ killings, for compensation or securing accountability and punishment, is placed on the victim’s family. Their marginalised and vulnerable status cripples their ability to secure accountability for the violation of the right to life.

e) Form over substance  

Standards such as the Supreme Court and NHRC guidelines mentioned above are often not followed in practice. On most occasions, where the alleged accused are men in uniform, belonging to the police or the armed forces, registration of First Information Reports (FIR) is refused, further deterring access to justice. In case of ‘encounter’ killings, the police lodge the FIR under Sec. 301 IPC, for attempt to murder, naming the deceased as the accused and close the case. Families are also unable to access and secure autopsy reports. Laws and policies are mostly in place, but they are not implemented.

f) Statutory immunities and good faith clause

The statutory provisions of requirement of prior sanction, for a Court to take cognizance of offences committed by public servants, including the police and armed forces, while discharging official duty, coupled with the presumption of good faith for acts done, effectively renders them immune from criminal prosecution.

g) Marginalised groups

Groups such as the dalits and the adivasis are particularly vulnerable, also in respect of the right to life. The increased targeting of ‘right to information’ activists and human rights defenders by land, forest and mining interest groups has also been reported to me.

h) Witness and victim protection

The lack of a systematic witness and victim protection system places them at risk, and leads to impunity.

4. The role of the human rights institutions

The National Human Rights Commission has a proud record and has a critical role to play in the protection of the right to life, especially with reference to ensuring strict compliance with its Guidelines on Encounter Killings.

The NHRC presently seems, from my interaction with them, to be taking a largely legalistic and deferential approach. During our discussions the approach on a number of points was that there are laws in place to deal with matters, and nothing more is required.

The state human rights institutions inspire little confidence. The Manipur Human Rights Commission was for all practical purposes closed after it challenged abuse of power by the police. A member of another state commission told me the commission was ‘subordinate’ to the government – there was not even pretence of independence. In West-Bengal, NGOs showed me how the number of cases they refer to the Commission has dropped to zero for 2012, because it serves no purpose.

The fact that lodging a complaint with a state commission blocks access to the NHRC raises the question whether their presence helps or hinders complainants.

C) Conclusions

There is reason for serious concern about extrajudicial executions. The National Human Rights Commission has on occasion said ‘extrajudicial executions have become virtually a part of state policy’. The position may have improved in some respects, but has not been resolved, and the legacy of the past is bound to continue into the future.

To a large extent the required structures to decrease extrajudicial executions are already in place. The steps to be taken have also by and large been identified within the system. What is required is a concerted and systematic effort by the state, civil society and all others concerned to eradicate its occurrence. In this process some of the best practices that are already followed in the country should be used as models for reform elsewhere. I have been impressed, for example, by the measures taken inKeralaStateto make the police force more responsive to the needs of the public.

Impunity for extrajudicial executions is the central problem. This gives perpetrators a free reign, and leaves victims in a situation where they either are left helpless, or have to retaliate. The obstacles to accountability that are in place – in particular the need for prior sanction of prosecutions – should be removed.

Women and minorities – religious minorities, as well as dalits and adivasis – as well as human rights defenders, including right to information activists, are especially at risk, and their protection deserves special measures.

Almost everyone interviewed said that the courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, play a central role in the fight against unlawful killings. The same applies to the role of the media. I was also struck by the level of expertise and responsibility in civil society.

It is evident that the killings of people take place in the context of other abuses, such as torture and enforced disappearances. Preventing these other abuses can under some circumstances prevent the taking of life.

It is clear that in general the underlying causes of some of the violence need to be addressed, including the levels of development of those who are currently using force to oppose state policies. Andhra Pradesh was mentioned to me as an example in this regard.

There is a strong need for victims to speak about their experiences. A large number of the almost 200 victims who made presentations to me emphasised the need to know the truth, and to ‘clear the names’ of their loved ones who had been killed in ‘fake encounters’. However, a credible national process will have far greater legitimacy in this regard than an international one. Some form of – internal – transformative justice is called for. InJammu and Kashmirthe Chief Minister called for a truth and reconciliation commission. It must be underscored that justice for the victims, accountability and punishment of the perpetrators, that is a real end to impunity for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture, are essential elements of any such process.

A public commitment to the eradication of the phenomenon of unlawful killings is needed. In this context it could be valuable to highlight to the public and to those in the structures of the State the historical and global role the country has played in promoting non-violence worldwide, including non-violent demonstrations, and the fact that extrajudicial executions is its opposite. A Commission of Inquiry, drawing on some of the outstanding jurists and other figures that the country has produced, can play this role.

There should be a special focus on the areas of the country where specific forms of unlawful killings take place. In some instances some form of transitional justice may be required, to ensure justice to the victims, break the cycle of violence, and to symbolize a new beginning.

Specific and targeted attention should be given to the following issues: challenging the general culture of impunity; addressing the practice of ‘fake encounters’, to ensure that it is rooted out; and ensuring that swift and decisive action, with concrete outcomes, is taken when there are mass targeted killings. The Commission has to be required to complete its work within a reasonably short period of time, also to demonstrate that a new approach is being followed. In this respect it will be useful to look at possible lessons to be learned from the recent appointment of a judge to investigate extrajudicial executions inGujarat, which at this stage appears to be a positive development.

D) Provisional recommendations

1. A credible Commission of Inquiry that inspires the confidence of the people, into extrajudicial executions inIndiashould be appointed by the Government which also serves a transitional justice role. The Commission should investigate allegations concerning past violations, propose where relevant measures to deal with those, and work out a plan of action for the future to eradicate practices of extrajudicial executions. The Commission must submit recommendations on legal reform, and the reform of state structures, security apparatus and processes that encourage impunity.

Without waiting for the Commission, the following steps should be taken as a matter of priority:

2. Ratification of the following international instruments should take place without further delay: Convention Against Torture; OP-CAT; and the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. Ratification of the following instruments should be considered: The two Optional Protocols to the ICCPR; Optional Protocol to CEDAW; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and the two Optional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions.

3. Repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 and theJammuandKashmirArmed Forces Special Powers Act, 1990. To tie this to the announcement of the Commission mentioned above will send a powerful signal about the State’s commitment to a new dispensation.

4. Repeal the following laws or bring them otherwise into conformity with the applicable international standards, including the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and the Basic Principles on Extrajudicial Executions: Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act; Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, 2005; Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act; provisions of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967; and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005;

5. Enact the Prevention of Torture Bill, along the lines of the amendments proposed by the Select Committee of the Upper House of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) ensuring its compliance with CAT.

6. There should be regular review and monitoring of the status of implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and the NHRC guidelines on arrest, custodial violence, encounter killings and custodial death. In particular, the establishment of the independent Police Complaints Authorities by the States should now be made a priority.

7. To counter impunity for extrajudicial executions, where the police cause the death of a person in an ‘encounter’, there must be mandatory registration of FIR under Sec.302 IPC against the police and there must be an independent investigation of the same. Whether the police acted in self-defence or committed culpable homicide is to be decided by the competent court.

8. Families of victims should have full and easy access to autopsy reports, death certificates and other relevant documentation to allow them to proceed with their lives.

9. The practice of inviting UN special procedures should be continued, especially in areas where international concern has been expressed, such as torture, counter-terrorism measures, and minority rights.

10. Increased sensitizations and orientation programmes in respect of gender-based killings, ‘honour’ killings, dowry deaths and witch killings should be undertaken, both for the police, judiciary and public especially in the areas of the country that most affected.

11. An effective witness and victim protection programme should be established.

12. The National Human Rights Commission should be given the mandate to investigate the actions of the Armed Forces, and there should not be a year cut-off date on the cases they can consider. The Commission should develop a strategy to enhance its contribution towards protecting the right to life which goes beyond mere references to laws and procedures, and focuses on actual impact. The NHRC should undertake a review of compliance with its guidelines on ‘encounter’ killings, and whether their guidelines work in practice. They should also issue guidelines on inquests and autopsies. The independence and working of state human rights commissions should be reviewed.

13. Place a moratorium on the death penalty in accordance with General Assembly resolution 65/206.

URL http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12029&LangID=E

Submission of BHRPC to the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions

March 28, 2012

The few representative cases submitted here clearly show the abysmal state of lawlessness which people live in.  Life here is virtually “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (as was claimed by Thomas Hobbes in his The Leviathan) for some people, particularly those who belong to the vulnerable groups such as minority communities, working class.

The alleged perpetrators in some of the cases belong to the armed forces ofIndiawhether regular military or para-military operating invariably under the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. The Act empowers members of the armed forces to use lethal force against civilians even to the causing of death on mere suspicion that they may act in breach of any law or any order along with the power to enter into any doweling places by breaking their entrance and search and seize anything without warrant and arrest any person without warrant and keep the arrestees in custody for unspecified times without charge in the valley along with the rest of Assam and parts of some other North East Indian states and Jammu and Kashmir. The AFSPA also places the army above the law, constitution and judiciary for acts claimed to be done under the Act by barring institution of prosecution, suits or any judicial procedure in any court inIndia.

Some other cases of extra-judicial execution noted above were perpetrated by the state police who operate under a state version of the AFSPA titled the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955. Along with these special security laws with draconian provisions and laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the regular law that governs the policing in Assam is the Assam Police Act, 2007, which was enacted apparently to comply with the requirements of the directives issued by the Supreme Court of India in Prakash Singh and Others vs. Union of India (also known as the police reform case), in essence conform more with the colonial-era Police Act of 1861. The colonial police law was not aimed to provide democratic policing. It meant to create a repressive force subservient to ruling class and devoid of any accountability to the law and people.

After decades of public pressure, lack of political will and continued poor policing, a police reform process is finally underway inIndiaas the apex court stepped in. On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh and Others vs. Union of India and Others instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start reform.

The directives were aimed to ensure functional autonomy of the police and their accountability to the law. For ensuring functional autonomy the Supreme Court directed 1. to establish a State Security Commission to i. ensure that the state government does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police; lay down broad policy guidelines aimed at promoting efficient, effective, responsive and accountable policing, in accordance with the law; give directions for the performance of the preventive tasks and service oriented functions of the police; evaluate the performance of the state police and prepare a report on police performance to be placed before the state legislature.

2. The second directive was aimed at ensuring fair selection of Director General of Police (DGP) and guarantee of his tenure.

3. Security of tenure is similarly important for other police officers on operational duties in the field. In order to help them withstand undue political interference, have time to properly understand the needs of their jurisdictions and do justice to their jobs, the Supreme Court provides for a minimum tenure of two years for the following categories of officers:           – Inspector General of Police (in charge of a Zone)

– Deputy Inspector General of Police (in charge of a Range)

– Superintendent of Police (in charge of a District)

– Station House Officer (in charge of a Police Station)

4. To counter the prevailing practice of subjective appointments, transfers and promotions, the Supreme Court provides for the creation of a Police Establishment Board. In effect, the Board brings these crucial service related matters largely under police control. Notably, a trend in international best practice is that government has a role in appointing and managing senior police leadership, but service related matters of other ranks remain internal matters. Experience inIndiashows that this statutory demarcation is absolutely required in order to decrease corruption and undue patronage, given the prevailing illegitimate political interference in decisions regarding police appointments, transfers and promotions.

5. the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to establish a National Security Commission for Central Police Organisations and Central Cara-Military Forces.

For ensuring accountability the Supreme Court directed the governments to set up:

6. Police Complaints Authority and

7. To separate investigation and law and order function of police.

The Commonwealth Initiative for Human Rights (CHRI), a regional human rights organization which was also one of the interveners in the Prakash Shingh case, after an analysis of the newly enacted Assam Police Act says that the Act only partially complies with the directives:

State Security Commission was established but the composition is not as per the Supreme Court directive. The Act has also weakened the mandate of the commission and has made its recommendation non-binding.

The second directive regarding selection process of the DGP and guarantee of his tenure not complied.

Directive regarding guarantee of tenure of the police officers on the field are also not complied. Only one year of tenure is guaranteed to the Superintendent of Police in charge of a district and Officer-in-Charge of a police station with vague grounds for premature removal.

Police Establishment Board was set up but the mandate was not adhered to. DGP has also been given the power to transfer any officer up to the rank of Inspector “as deemed appropriate to meet any contingency”, contrary to the directive.

The Central Government did not establish National Security Commission in utter contempt of the judgment.

The Assam Police Act, 2007 establishes Police Accountability Commission to enquire into public complaints supported by sworn statement against the police personnel for serious misconduct and perform such other functions. But the Chairperson and members of the Commission are appointed directly by the government. This can, at best, be called partial compliance.

Half hearted attempts can also be seen regarding separation of investigation from law and order function of the police. Special Crime Investigation Unit has been set up in urban police stations but there is no specific section on separation of between law and order and crime investigation.

This deliberate attempt to bypass the Supreme Court directives prompted the petitioner in the case formerAssamdirector-general of police Prakash Singh to describe the Assam Police Act, 2007, as a fraud on the people of the state. He was speaking at a seminar  jointly organised by the commission and the Assam State Legal Services Authority at theAssamAdministrativeStaffCollege, Guwahati. According to him, the government had violated the letter and spirit of the apex court guidelines by passing the act without conforming to these guidelines.

The Act needs drastic amendment to be brought in conformity with the Supreme Court guidelines and to be compatible with International Human Rights Standards. More importantly the role of the police needs to be redefined “taking into account the emerging challenges of policing and security of the State, the imperatives of good governance, and respect for human rights”.

The cases cited also highlight another huge challenge to the civil and political rights inAssamwhich is non-adherence and non-implementation of laws and other instruments that are meant to protect such rights. The Supreme Court guidelines in DK Basu case, and NHRPC guidelines regarding arrest, custodial deaths have the potential to drastically reduce the number of extra-judicial executions if implemented properly. The DK Basu guidelines are only implemented in papers. In rural police stations the guidelines are not even hung in a language eligible to the public at a conspicuous place.

It may be noted that in many of the cases mentioned no magisterial inquiry was conducted in contravention of the statutory mandate of section 176 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. In the cases where such inquiries are conducted the magistrates employed were not judicial ones as is mandate of the law. Although even the executive magistrates when found in their inquiries the guilt of the accused police personnel established beyond doubt, neither prosecution has been started nor has any compensation been provided to the kin of the deceased. Apart from legal immunity provided by security legislations such as the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958, the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 there is a regime of de facto impunity guaranteed to the violators which is responsible for the increase of the cases of extrajudicial killings.

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BHRPC submits cases of extra-judicial executions in Barak valley to the Special Rapporteur

March 28, 2012

Guwahati, 28 March: “Ours is a case of doing works of police by the army and using the regular state police by ruling politicians as their personal army” said Waliullah Ahmed Laskar during his oral presentation at the North Eastern regional briefing to the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions held today here at Ashoka Brahmaputra hotel. Mr. Laskar, director of law and legal affairs of the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) added, “although there are no terrorist activities and any home grown insurgent groups in Barak valley that can pose a threat to the national integrity and security the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 is in force in the valley along with the rest of Assam and parts of some other North East Indian states and Jammu and Kashmir. The Act empowers the army personnel to use lethal force against civilians even to the causing of death on mere suspicion that they may act in breach of any law or any order along with the power to enter into any doweling places by breaking their entrance and search and seize anything without warrant and arrest any person without warrant and keep the arrestees in custody for unspecified times without charge. The AFSPA also places the army above the law, constitution and judiciary for acts claimed to be done under the Act by barring institution of prosecution, suits or any judicial procedure in any court inIndia.” He further added that the state police also operate under a similar draconian law called the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955 and showed how the Assam Police Act, 2007 is a fraud on the people as well as on the Supreme Court of India in so far as it claims to conform with requirements of directives issued by the supreme court in Prakash Singh and others Vs. Union of India and others.

He also submitted a report to the special rapporteur professor Christof Heyns, who is on a fact-finding mission inIndiafrom 19 March to 30 March, containing cases of extra-judicial or arbitrary killing of innocent people both by the state police and armed forces of the central government. Cases that were submitted include 1. killing of one Islamul Hoque Choudhury (of Sonai, Cachar) by police because he became to threat to them as he witnessed how they tortured another person to death, 2 extra-judicial killing of Hashmat Ali (Kalain, Cachar) by police after being bribed by another person to teach him a lesson, 3. death of Motahir Ali (Kalain, Cachar) caused by torture in police custody as his family could not pay the amount of bribe demanded by the police for his release, 4. death of Mr. Moyfor Raja (Katlicherra, Hailakandi) in police custody due to torture, 5. fake encounter killing of Jamir Uddin (Katlicherra, Hailakandi) by central reserve police force personnel, 6. death of Iskandar Ali (Dholai, Cachar) caused by indiscriminate firing of  CRF personnel at a market place, 7. killing of a car driver by police apparently for speeding and 8. extra-judicial execution of Iqbal Hussain Laskar (Algapur, Hailakandi) by army after they picked him up and some other cases.

The BHRPC urged the special rapporteur to recommend to the authorities inIndiato 1. to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958; 2. to repeal the Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955; 3. to make the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 compatible with international human rights standards by amending the Act; 4. to bring the Assam Police Act, 2007 in conformity with the directives of the Supreme Court of India through amendment; 5. to amend the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 to extend the jurisdiction of both the state and national human rights commissions to conduct independent inquiries into cases of alleged human rights violations by the armed forces and to lengthen the limitation period of one year to five years; 6. to constitute an independent commission headed by a retired chief justice of a high court or the supreme eligible to be appointed as the chief justice of India with adequate numbers of members from the civil society to conduct time-bound inquiries into all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions leading to the initiation of prosecution and provision of adequate reparation; 7. to constitute special courts to conduct trial of all cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions under direct monitoring of the Supreme Court of India; and others.

At the meet presided over by Justice W A Shishak, former chief justice of the Chhattisgarh high court, Mr Babloo Loitongbam of Human Rights Alert (Manipur), Ms. Bubumoni Goswami, chairperson of the Manabadhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS, Assam), Ms Rosanna Lyngdoh of the Impulse NGO Network (Mehgalaya), Taring Mama of the Association for Civil Rights (Arunachal Pradesh), Neingulo Krome of the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (Nagaland), Anthony Debbarma of the Borok Peoples Human Rights Organisation (Tripura) and others also made both oral and written submissions.

The special rapporteur who is accompanied by the UN human rights officer Irina Tabirta and other staff said in his concluding remark that he was thankful to the government of India for extending invitation to his mandate to the country and he assured the participants that he would take up the issues raised here with the government of India and is going to have a press conference in Delhi on 30 March where he would share his preliminary recommendations. He is expected to submit his report on the situation of extra-judicial execution inIndiato the UN human rights council and the General Assembly of the UN at the end of this year.  (Submission of BHRPC to the SR on Summary Execution)

Neharul Ahmed Mazumder

Secretary General,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee

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)

Rights group seeks probe into starvation deaths

February 10, 2012

GUWAHATI: A rights group in the state has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union labour and employment ministerMallikarjun Kharge for a probe into the alleged starvation deaths of 11 people in a tea estate in Cachar district.

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee(BHRPC) has sent letters to the Prime Minister’s Office and the labour and employment minister, seeking their intervention in the matter.

“Eleven people have already died due to starvation and the condition of many others is still serious. We have demanded setting up of an independent inquiry panel for looking into the incident that led to the death of 11 labourers,” wrote the BHRPC.

The BHRPC alleged that the 11 deaths occurred in Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, a privately owned tea garden, due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care. The condition of at least five others was serious.

The inquiry panel must be headed by a retired Supreme Court or high court judge and accompanied by nutrition and labour law experts and social activists, said Prasenjit Biswas, director of BHRPC research and study division. “We had written to the state government through the district administration several days ago. However, there was no response,” he said.

Published in The Times of India at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Rights-group-seeks-probe-into-starvation-deaths/articleshow/11826688.cms