Home / News / Hunger Alerts / INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility

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,

AHRC-HAU-001-2012-03The 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. Mrs. Belbati Bauri

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. Mr. Jugendra as on February 9 Mr. Jugendra after death

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 :
Document Actions
Share |
comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Mailing List
Campaigns

protectfisherfolks.png

ProtectLandPOSCO.png

floodinpakistan.png

Hunger - an ongoing issue in India

IndianBoyInHunger.pngMany sad hunger stories are being neglected, unheard and ignored in different parts of the world. The victims suffer in silence. Our society is not poorer than it was in the past. Why is that the problems of starvation, malnutrition and other related issues are unabated?

To raise awareness and prompt action on poverty-related issues in the region, the Asian Human Rights Commission has launched a campaign of Hunger Alert. It aims to break the silence of suffering and bring the plight of these people to public concern. Hunger Alert can be reached under the Right to Food Programme here.

Individuals or organisations can send untold stories and latest information concerning those people who face hunger and related problems, or the threat of starvation, together with contact details, to Hunger Alert. Upon verification, the news will be shared with a large audience throughout the world via email networking and Web sites. The approach is modelled on the AHRC's Urgent Appeals programme, which receives information by email at <ua@ahrc.asia>.

Follow AHRC