Posts Tagged ‘Tea gardens’

The price of tea from death valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is less picturesque up close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is still failing them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

Bhuvan valley: Stay hungry and shut up

April 3, 2012

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

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reports on starvation deaths in Assam

March 17, 2012

Tea Labourers dying of hunger in Assam

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

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

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

Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden

March 10, 2012

Two more deaths again in Bhuvan valley tea estate

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

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

The BHRPC reported (the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/hungeralert1) 10 deaths on 1 February following its fact-finding study and claimed that the underlying and contributory causes of all deaths were starvation, malnutrition and lack of medical care going by the definition of starvation and malnutrition provided in the National Food Security Bill, 2010 drafted by the National Advisory Council and the Starvation Investigation Protocol prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioners on the right to food. The BHRPC again reported (see the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/situation-of-hunger-deteriorates-in-assam-tea-garden/) serious health condition of 43 other people of the tea estate on 11 February. Two people among them Belbati Bauri and Jugendra Bauri later died on 18 and 22 February respectively. This was also reported (see the report at https://bhrpc.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/hungeralert3/) by the BHRPC on 23 February.

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

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

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

10 March, 2012

Silchar,Assam

For more information contact

Waliullah Ahmed Laskar

wali.laskar@gmail.com

+91 94019 42234

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

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

March 3, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

The factory is yet to be opened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 March 2012, Guwahati

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

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

February 27, 2012

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

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

February 27, 2012

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERTS PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Update: AHRC-HAU-001-2012

27 February 2012

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

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

Dear friends,

Mr. Jugendra as on February 9

Mr. Jugendra as on February 9

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

UPDATED INFORMATION:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

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

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

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

_________________________

SUGGESTED ACTION:

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

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

To support this appeal, please click here: 

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

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

Name of the deceased:

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

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

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

Date of incident: Since October 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I therefore urge you,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden

February 23, 2012

Silchar

11 February, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rights group seeks probe into starvation deaths

February 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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