Posts Tagged ‘Starvation’

Civil society representation demanding ration, healthcare and hazard pay for tea plantation workers

April 16, 2020

Relevant part of the memorandum demanding ration, healthcare and hazard pay for plantation workers 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has infected close to 2 million people worldwide, with a sharp daily increase in numbers. To implement the recommended standard of social distancing, the Government of India (GoI) imposed a 21-day nation-wide lockdown beginning at the midnight of Wednesday, March 25th. Almost two-weeks after this lockdown, tea plantation workers in Assam’s Barak Valley have not been paid their wages, creating a grave crisis without income or access to food and other essential services. On April 3rd, GoI exempted tea plantations from the nation-wide lockdown, permitting 50% workers to work. The unplanned implementation of this policy decision will put Barak Valley’s 70,000 workers, across 104 tea plantations at risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus. 

Assam’s tea plantation workers are a semi-skilled to skilled labour force who are paid a dismally low daily wage of Rs. 145, which is even lower than the state’s minimum wage for unskilled workers. The living and working conditions on these plantations have always been abysmal, with disproportionately high rates of malnourishment and anaemia. The disparagingly poor health conditions on tea plantations, coupled with very poor accessibility to healthcare, makes Barak Valley’s tea plantation workers a highly vulnerable and at-risk group in the COVID-19 pandemic. Women, who form over 60% of the workforce on Assam’s tea plantations, will be disproportionately affected by the unplanned implementation of this exemption. In many cases, since they are the sole bread-winners of their families, the burden of going to work to earn a living is higher on women. Further, plantation workers in Barak Valley, especially women deserted by their husbands, do not possess ration cards, and therefore don’t receive any ration. The lack of secure land tenure among tea plantation workers also increases their vulnerability. 

During this pandemic and hunger crisis, it is critical that plantations and governments undertake coordinated efforts to secure the health and life of plantation workers by ensuring that every single worker has improved, adequate and quality access to basic necessities including food and health care. Therefore, we demand the following urgent steps be taken immediately to protect the lives of Barak Valley’s tea plantation workers: 

  1. Order immediate release of all past dues to workers, including continued payment of wages for the period of complete lock-down on tea plantations. 2. The order dated April 3, 2020 passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, granting exemption to tea plantations from the ongoing lockdown, should only be enforced after adequate precautionary measures are put in place. These measures must include: 
  2. Identify adequate amounts of quarantine facilities on every plantation, including, but not limited to using existing infrastructure like labour clubs and space on management residential plots, for this purpose. b. Immediately devise and implement a strategy to widely disseminate information about the COVID-19 pandemic, informing workers about the scale of the pandemic, the risks it poses, precautionary measures, and an emergency plan in case of the spread of the virus on the plantation in local languages. c. Provide water and antiseptic soap at regular intervals on plantations. d. Procure enough numbers of cloth masks and gloves to provide to workers for wearing while working on the plantations.
  3. Complete universalization of ration through the Public Distribution System for a period of at least 6 months. People without ration cards should be able to get subsidised food. Further, direct plantations to immediately supply ration to workers for the period of the lockdown.
  4. Ensure proper implementation of the PM Garib Kalyan Package announced by the Finance Minister, to help the poor fight coronavirus.
  5. Specifically, ensure implementation of the Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana. b. Ensure workers have accessibility and information on how to withdraw pension funds, announced under the Package. Comply with the advance payment of PF to workers.
  6. Ensure continued and adequate implementation of all other schemes and entitlements of the State and Central governments.
  7. Ensure and monitor that plantations strictly comply with existing laws, policies, schemes and entitlements, to ensure safe and healthy working and living conditions for tea plantation workers. This includes ration, and different kinds of direct benefit transfers to the poor like under maternity benefit schemes, following safety measures on plantations, and proper functioning of plantation hospitals.
  8. All Direct Benefit Transfers must be made as cash payment to workers, following proper social distancing norms, through the Anganwadi workers. The fractured banking systems and unavailability of ATMs on plantations would mean that workers are unable to use the DBT in a lockdown.
  9. Plantations must provide health insurance and additional wages as hazard pay for workers given the dangerous circumstances that they are being forced to work in.
  10. The government must ensure provision of dignified health care. All health facilities, including Plantation Hospitals, PHCs, CHCs and Medical Colleges are ready must be fully equipped to deal with COVID-19 cases, including procuring sufficient testing kits, medication, ventilators and other medical equipment and providing the necessary personnel protective equipment for healthcare workers, including community health workers like ASHA workers. All private hospitals should be directed to provide free treatment. There must be regular and continuous audit of all plantation hospitals by the health and labour departments and strict action against plantation management for any violation. 10. If needed, provide adequate relief packages to companies to safeguard workers from losing pay, health benefits and other necessary entitlements to mitigate the hardship during this period. 

The failure to take the above steps will aggravate the plight of tea plantation workers, including death of workers owing to COVID-19 and starvation. The failure to secure rights and basic necessities for workers is a grave violation and a possible economic slowdown does not justify putting their lives at the forefront of a global health pandemic. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Best,

Taniya Sultana Laskar
Barak Human Rights Protection Committee,
Kachari Masjid Complex, Silchar, Assam
[Phone No.- 7576874498; bhrpc.ne@gmail.com]

Nirmal Kanti Das 
Majori Sramik Union, Assam
[Phone No.- 9435238753; nirmaldasaseb@gmail.co]

Manas Das 
Forum for Social Harmony, Assam
Silchar, Assam. Phone No. – 9435522567

Mrinal Kanti Shome 
Asom Mojuri Sharamik Union
Lane No. 13, House No.18, 1st Link Road,
Cachar, Assam.
[Phone No. – 9854067226; mojurishramik@gmail.com]

(Click here for a copy of the representation)

Assam: Fear of mass starvation amid lockdown due to CoViD 19 pandemic

April 12, 2020

Ground Report Assam: Covid-19 leads to mass starvation as water-starved farm lands run dry

Tracts of farmlands cultivated by the small farmer growing tomatoes, chili, brinjal, lemons and watermelons are shriveling up due to water supply being cut during Assam’s lock down, even while the urban poor are forced to buy vegetables at exorbitant prices; dealers in curd and cheese are in dire straits; the question then is, who is profiteering from the COVID 19 lock down?

Nanda Ghosh

 

Assam FarmPhoto Credit: Piyush Chakraborty, Riju Modak, Krishna Sarker, Muzammel Hoque,

Santhali Adivasis who walk 20-30 kilometres to Bongaigaon, clear the jungle for residents and earn money through this exercise are today left with no earnings after the  sudden lock down. Just days ago, a poor and marginalised labourer, Gopal Barman from Goalpara district of Assam has already committed suicide due to acute scarcity of food. For the Santhalis, the indigenous people of Assam, the jungle was rich in food but today, their food crisis is more dire than the horrors of Corona. Community volunteers with the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), in the Bongaigaon district have alerted authorities about these dire conditions while also undertaking relief distribution through community resources.

Farms of tomatoes have been drying up, bigha by bigha, also as a result of the lock down with farmers not being allowed to care for the produce.  Ratan Majumdar, a farmer from Chatianguri under the Bijni sub-division of Chirang district said that due to the lock down the crops which are being cultivated on their lands are being systematically destroyed, especially which will cause a lot of real, human and financial damage. Loss of vegetable-fruits like this is criminal at a time when people are hungry for food.

FarmPhoto Credit: Piyush Chakraborty, Riju Modak, Krishna Sarker, Muzammel Hoque

Majumdar also said that tomatoes are grown-produced in large quantities in many villages of this district including Chhatianguri, Maneswari. However all these villages have shown the tomatoes withering away due to the sudden shut down of water supply! Farmers in the villages of Matiyapara, Bagorgaon, Koptupuli, Kauwatika, Duturi, Baghmara etc are also helpless, seeing before their own eyes their crop dry up and wither away due to the failure to water the fields!

When interacting with farmers, CJP’s wide network of community volunteers and district volunteers, asks, “Farmer how are you?”(কৃষক তুমি কেমন আছো? /কৃষক তুমি কেনে আছা?)

The results of this empathetic exchange, at a time when there is none to turn to, are revealing. CJP volunteers have been active in the various villages of Lower Assam especially those in the Chirang, Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, Barapeta and other districts.

CJP’s volunteer from Chirang, Pranay Tarafder visited a village called Kharampara. No farmers were allowed to talk to him or come outside their homes. This, while their fields and the produce shriveled up. A criminal waste of produce.

Similarly, many villages in Kokrajhar district seeing the shriveling up of field upon field growing vegetables! Abdul Hamid, a small, marginalised farmer from the Hawriapet village under Gosaigaon police station in Kokrajhar district, told CJP, “I cultivated cucumber  on 1 bigha of land this year. As the time was ripe to sell this cucumber, the lock down was suddenly declared. If we can’t sell vegetables, what we will eat? Will the government help us?”

FarmerPhoto Credit: Piyush Chakraborty, Riju Modak, Krishna Sarker, Muzammel Hoque

Many other villages of Barpeta district are seeing the similar waste of all their ripe and grown agricultural produce due to absence of a live supply chain open to the markets. Sale of vegetables in large quantities has been unilaterally shut down for the last twenty days. Katajhar village grows large tracts of cucumber. “If the state’s agriculture department does not arrange for purchase and sales, then I too will be at a loss, ” Gokul Ghosh of the village told the CJP team.  A similarly bleak situation faces almost farmers in this district. A large number of corn crops are harvested in the Dhubri region of Assam, especially in the Char region. Faced with the turbulence caused by the countrywide lock down, these farmers face a sudden dip in the prices of corn. What will this mean for their sustenance?

FarmerPhoto Credit: Piyush Chakraborty, Riju Modak, Krishna Sarker, Muzammel Hoque

Bishnupur in Chirang District is known for it’s famed lemon cultivation. This is the area from where the special Assamese lemon is supplied to all over the state, other states in the north-east and even eastern part of Bengal. Many farmers from this area cultivate hundreds of bighas of lemon. Guwahati, the main city of Assam is also dependent upon Bishnupur as it meets the demands of 90% lemon. Though lemons have been harvested, the sudden shut down in communications had ruptured the supply chain. Small portions are being sold:  while the price was Rs 1200 per bag before the lock down, this has dropped to Rs 800 per bag, which means a loss of Rs 400 per bag.

The same is the case in Garogaon, Oxiguri, Bhawraguri, Batabari, Ballamguri, Kawatika, Bhetgaon etc villages which is the areas renowned for tomato and chilli cultivation. Farmer Abdul Aziz told the CJP team that he cultivated green chilli on three bighas of land, and in better non lock down times he used sell this produce at Rs 40 per kg. Now the green chilli ready to eat, but there is no way to sell it. The supply chain has been broken.

Large quantities of water melon is grown-produced in the pastures of the Aie river in the Bongaigaon district. Locals have innovative methods of sale: the lawn road at No. 31 National Highway, for one kilometer on both sides of the highway becomes a temporary market for watermelon vendors. The Covid-19 caused lock down has meant a loss of sales and supply, leaving the farmers stranded with the ready crop. A similar situation has arisen for watermelon growers in Balughopa region.

In another part of Bongaigaon district, the Kirtanpara area, people earn their livelihoods on two kinds of occupation. The first is agriculture and the second is cheese and curd production from the fresh cow milk, which is then sold in different cities. With the lock down, farmers’ crops are being destroyed, and accumulation of curd and cheese is causing a wasteful and desperate situation for these producers.

Many milk dealers in Chirang district are also in dire straits today. Particularly for those who sell milk in the sweet shops, the situation is acute as shops are shut due to the lock down. No alternative arrangements have been made by the government to sell milk at this time of crisis. This has added to the despair.

Committed to its Citizenship related para legal and community interventions since 2017, CJP’s team that spans several districts of the has been now completely involved in providing food and ration relief especially to the most deisadvantaged and needy among the people. This work involves creating awareness about the COVID 19 virus, the need for intrepid steps for public distancing, observing the lock down and administrative rules while also at the same time, performing these public tasks: collecting and distributing the relief materials, through our volunteers in different areas.

The results have been painful and worrying. Testimonies of unspeakable hardship have emerged: the poorest people among the people in Assam are battling against hunger, searching for food rather than battling Corona. Food intake has been reduced to days long hunger or just a single meal in a day. The state of Assam is in a state of anarchy and faces worse in the days ahead.

Several persons and organisations are involved in the relief and humanitarian aid operations. These aid workers and volunteers are co-operating with the administration. The administration is trying its best to supply ration needs of those mainly in urban and semi urban centers. Ii is in the most remote areas where the distress is acute: unimaginable dire stories from widows, orphans, children come from there.

In the midst of this crisis, volunteers from CJP have been distributing relief material while following the regulations laid down by the administration for such work during the lock down. Difficulties remain, however. Some volunteers from Kokrajhar have complained of innocent persons being targeted by the administration when in fact they have not been guilty of any violations.

Also, movement to aid workers and volunteers gets hampered because of these very rules. The cries of the farmer in Baksha district is desperate and acutely felt. To alleviate this suffering, CJP has started this outreach and our first step is to ask, “how are you dear farmer?”

Assam faces a double or triple jeopardy caused by COVID 19. Already the state was reeling under the self-inflicted citizenship crisis. Then the fears and precautions caused by the virus. The worst of all of this is however, the condition of hundreds if not thousands of marginalised farmers who cultivate on small land: the cultivation could be tomatoes, brinjal, chilli, watermelon, milk produce.

The refrain is an echo, from farmer after farmer, “Our war is against hunger, much more than Corona.” What will they do? Through CJP they plead: the government takes some measures to waiver or sanctioning new farmers’ loans to protect their lives, must open water supply, must open supply chains of ready vegetable and milk produce to markets. Otherwise, they will die not of disease but of starvation. And, ready to eat good vegetables and milk foods are going waste.

The farmer’s plight is a source of much frustration. As the Adivasis and farmers battle hunger in Assam, the middleman, the grocery shop owner charges exorbitant prices. Why doesn’t the government not crack down on this brazen hoarding and corruption? On the one hand, crops are being wasted or being left to wither and die while at the grocery store, people are compelled to buy vegetables at high prices. The distress of the suffering matches the poor and marginalized that are compelled to pay higher rates for food.

The most heart wrenching sight witnessed by the CJP team was to see, at many homes of farmers, cultivator families boiling brinjals, cauliflower and feeding these to the cows! In the small urban centres, with the acute rise in price of vegetables and other essential food items, the working poor people are compelled to eat rice only with salt.

What can be done? The government needs to step in pro actively and not be paralysed in a state of lock down. The farmer is ready to sell and buy vegetables through a government regulated chain where the benefits go to him and the small consumer who needs to eat. For this the government needs to step in and soon. This way the farmer will get some money as well as the people will not have to bear the extra burden of price rise during this financial downturn.

If the government begins the distribution of rice rations from April 15, CJP volunteers are planning to actually vegetables from the farmer and distribute them to those who need them. If other aid workers and agencies play the same role in a spirit of co-operation, marginalized sections of the Assamese people will be able to eat vegetables with rice.

(The author is the Lower Assam Volunteer Motivator for CJP, Assam)

Related Articles:

 1. Lockdown impact: Father of three allegedly commits suicide in Assam
2.Tea industry faces fall in exports, revenues and volumes due to Covid-19 lockdown


The report is originally published the Sabrang and can be accessed here.

Call for support for the poor and marginalised people during the CoViD 19 pandemic

April 7, 2020

Friends and colleague

As we all know that we are going through a tough time. The CoViD 19 pandemic necessitating lockdown has created a huge uncertainty in the life of millions of people mostly belonging to the marginalised and dispossessed class like the migrant labourers, the daily wage earners, famers etc.. Women, mostly the abandoned women, widows and poor pregnant women are going through the worst nightmares of their life. This is the right time when we should come forward hand in hand to show some solidarity and practice responsibility. Hence, this call for support.

BHRPC is a voluntary human rights group working in Barak Valley, the southern part of Assam. We mostly work against police atrocities, racial discrimination, women rights, protection of human rights defenders etc. The main objectives of BHRPC are (i) to promote and protect human rights and prevent their violations, (ii) to improve socio-economic situation for full realization of Social, Economic and Cultural Rights for all and (iii) to work for promotion and establishment of democracy, secularism and world peace as these are sine qua non for full realization of all human rights. Presently, BHRPC is working on citizenship right and NRC  through providing legal and paralegal aid to the marginalised people. But in the present scenario, since millions of people are at the risk of starvation we want to extend a more physical kind of help in the following way.

  • We are trying to help the families by supplying them a GROCERY KIT that can sustain their families for the upcoming 3 weeks, or even more than that.
  • Kit will contain sufficient quantities of Rice, oil, sugar, pulse, salt, onions, soaps etc.

Please donate and join the fight against Coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic.

Yours sincerely

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC)

S/B Account Number;-33847437590

Branch Code-1991

IFSC Code-SBIN0001991

 

Contact Person-Taniya Sultana Laskar.

Contact Number-  7576874498

bhrpc.ne@gmail.com

bhrpcsilchar@protonmail.com

NHRC pulls up Assam over hunger deaths and rights violations

May 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 21, 2012

Dear friends,

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

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

 Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 Further information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

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

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

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More information:

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

 

BHRPC reports on the continuous tragedy in Bhuvan valley tea estate

1. Preliminary fact-finding report:

            Tea labourers dying of hunger in Assam

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

 

2. Update-I:

 

            Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden

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

3. Update-II:

             Two more people died in Assam tea garden

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

4. Update-III:

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

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

5. Update-IV:

             Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

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

6. Update-V:

             Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

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

 

Reports and actions by other organizations:

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

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

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

2. Update on the AHRC Hunger Alert:

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

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

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

            Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

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

 

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

1. 19 January 2012:

            Inquiry into Cachar hunger deaths

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

2. 5 February 2012:

Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths

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

3.  9 February 2012:

            Tea workers die of starvation

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

            Rights group seeks prove into starvation deaths

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

4. 21 February 2012:

Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea

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

5. 25 February 2012

Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley

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

6. February 2012:

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

7. 5 March 2012:

            Team of doctors confirm malnutrition of tea workers

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

8. 13 March 2012

Dispur rap on garden for deaths

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

9. 1 April 2012:

Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF

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

10. 4 April 2012:

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

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

11. 18 May 2012

            The dark side of India’s tea industry

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

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Please support the tea workers and sign the petition:

 

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Guwahati, Assam

21 May 2012

Fore any clarification or further information contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: +91 9401942234

Email:wali.laskar@gmail.com

France 24 reports starvation deaths of Assam tea workers

May 19, 2012

After the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) released reports on deaths of workers due to starvation, malnutrition and lack health care in the Bhuvan valley tea estate of south Assam, many national and international media groups along with some rights groups including the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have taken up the matter and in their own ways attempted to address the situation. Latest one is a report that has been broadcast today by FRANCE 24 Television, an international news channel based in Paris, on the basis of the findings of an independent investigation undertaken by its correspondents Natacha Butler and Vikram Singh. They found that people are still dying due to malnutrition and several others are suffering from diseases related to chronic malnutrition due to low wages and absence of medical facilities in violations of laws passed by the Indian parliament as well as international human rights laws. Here is the report:

The dark side of India’s tea industry

Indians are the world’s biggest tea drinkers and producers. Half of the country’s entire output comes from the north-eastern state ofAssam, but the conditions for many of those who work on its tea plantations are appalling. Workers earn well below the minimum wage and malnutrition is also common. Laws about facilities and conditions on tea estates exist, but many don’t comply. Our correspondents Natacha Butler and Vikram Singh went to visit one such estate in the south ofAssam.

By Natacha BUTLER / Vikram Singh

http://www.france24.com/en/sites/all/modules/maison/aef_player/flash/player_new.swf

 

Found at http://www.france24.com/en/20120518-india-tea-estates-assam-malnutrition-workers-rights accessed on 18 May 2012

 

Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

May 8, 2012

Press statement

For Immediate release

Date: 8 May 2012

Another death in starving tea garden of Assam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For any clarification or further information please contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Mobile: 09401942234

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com

Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden

April 27, 2012

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

The preliminary report that they have issued is posted here.

CIVIL SOCIETY INQUIRY REPORT OFBHUBANVALLEYTEA ESTATE DEATHS

CACHAR:ASSAM

PRESS RELEASE

Introduction

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

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

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

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

 Background

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

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

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

Findings

Livelihood

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

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

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

Wage

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

The people do not have any other source of income.

Health

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

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

Drinking Water& Sanitation

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

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

People are undernourished and prone to various diseases.

Women are anemic. Children are malnourished.

 VIOLATION OF LEGAL PROVISIONS

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

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

DEMANDS

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

  1. extra allocation of pds ration

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

  1. Immediate and proper medical support

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

  1. Drinking water facilities

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

.

  1. Management

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

  1.  IMPLEMENTATION of supreme court order

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

  1. Entitlement

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

  1. Provident Fund

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

SIGNATORIES

  1. WILFRED TOPNO                                         2. STEPHEN EKKA

President Adivasi Sahitya Sabh                           Director, PAJHRA

  1. SAITO BASUMATARY                               3. GODFREY HERE

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

  1. REJAN HORO

Organizing secretary, AASAA

Central committee

Annexure(1)

Death list

Death ListLbetween Oct 2011 to Feb 22.

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

17th Jan

  1. Belboti Bauri
F 75 North Bank Division

18th Feb.2012

  1. Jugendara Bauri
M 55 North Bank, Division

22nd Feb.2012

Situation in the Barak valley Tea Garden

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

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

ooooooo

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

.

Bhuvan valley: Stay hungry and shut up

April 3, 2012

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

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest dwellers deprived of livelihood and facing forcible eviction in Assam

March 22, 2012

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Facts on the Ground:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log of a tree cut down in the village

Log of a tree cut down in the village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cattle looking for grass in a burnt out hillock

Cattle looking for grass in a burnt out hillock

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

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

Legal Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations:

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

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

 

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

(Read update 1)

For more information please contact:

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

Email: wali.laskar@gmail.com

Mobile: 0 94019 42234


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

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

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

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

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

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

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