Very shockingly, the enforced conditions of starvation and famine and resultant tragedy of hunger deaths of the tea workers of Assam still persists with its all menacing ugliness. Labourers of tea estates in this North East Indian state known worldwide for tea production are dying one after another due to malnutrition and lack of proper health care. So far 15 workers of a particular tea garden in South Assam died and several others are counting their days, according to the information available with the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC).
The BHRPC conducted a fact-finding study during the last days of January 2012 in the Bhuvan valley tea garden after receiving reports of hunger deaths and released a fact-finding report on 1 February revealing information about deaths of 10 residents of the estate allegedly caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper health care. After that deaths of four more persons were reported.
The latest unfortunate death was of Lakhi Prasad Dushad, a permanent worker of the estate and a resident of North bank division who died on 3 May 2012. He was only 38 years old. He left behind him his wife Imti Dushad (aged about 30), his sons Kishan Dushad (15), Eleven Dushad (13), Sujit Dushad (11), Hitesh Dushad (8) and 5 year old daughter Sweetie Dushad. Their survival is uncertain and a matter of grave concern.
It all started in this tea estate, owned by a private company based in Kolkata (West Bengal), when the owners closed down the estate on 8 October 2011 and abandoned the labourers, about 500 of whom were permanent and another 1000 casual workers, in response to their demands for payment of outstanding dues of wages, increase in the wages which was about Rs. 41,00 for casual workers and Rs. 55.00 (less than 1 US dollar) for permanent workers and far below the statutory minimum wages and for payment of other withheld benefits. The illegal closure of the estate resulted in loss of means of livelihood of the workers that pushed them into the condition of starvation and famine leading to the deaths and death-like condition of living. The rights of plantation workers to fair wage, bonus, provident fund, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 have not been enforced. In the course of closure, the government also failed to make any intervention to guarantee their fundamental rights to live with dignity. It is further found that basic medical care and food distribution for the poor under the government schemes including the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) did not properly reach even those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it was one of the causes that led to the deaths.
Even after deaths of so many people the central government of India and the state government of Assam have not yet taken any effective actions for amelioration of the situation except some inquiries designed to serve as a cover-up, re-opening of the garden and forcing the labourers to join work without addressing their legitimate demands. Therefore, workers in the garden are still dying.
In view of the above and the commitment of India to the protection of human rights of every citizen and prevention of starvation deaths, the BHRPC urges that:
A. The authorities should provide urgent relief to the tea workers in terms of food supply and medical treatment to prevent further deaths and deterioration of health conditions of sick workers and their dependents.
B. The authorities should conduct a prompt, impartial and objective inquiry into the situation of the garden to fix responsibility for the deaths and the conditions that led to this situation including corruption in implementation of government welfare schemes and non-adherence to the provisions of the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 and other laws applicable in the estate management by an independent commission of inquiry headed by a sitting or retired judge of a high court or the supreme court and comprising of, among others, medical experts, nutrition experts, labour rights and human rights experts.
C. The officials or other persons who would be found negligent and derelict in their legal duties and responsibilities that directly contributed to the developing of the situation that led to the deaths should be prosecuted according to law.
D. The kin and the dependent of the deceased person should be provided with adequate reparation so far money can provide.
E. The authorities should ensure that all outstanding dues of the labourers are paid immediately and the wages of all tea labourers ofAssammade equal for the time being and that the tea gardens are run according to the laws providing all rights and benefits to the labourers under the laws.
In sum, we would also like to see assumption of some moral responsibility for these calamitious circumstances of death under conditions of hunger and malnutrition, instead of a mere legalistic standpoint. We expect that the Govt. at the state and the Centre should speak the truth and does not issue mere denials in a circumlocutory fashion. In this situation of famished deaths, “ought” is more important than “is”.
The sources of important information about the starvation deaths and the condition of the tea workers that can be found in the internet are given below:
BHRPC reports on the continuous tragedy in Bhuvan valley tea estate
1. Preliminary fact-finding report:
Tea labourers dying of hunger in Assam
Situation of hunger deteriorates in Assam tea garden
Two more people died in Assam tea garden
Assam government’s actions regarding starvation deaths are inadequate and misleading
Deaths continue unabated in Assam tea garden
Another death in starving tea garden of Assam
Reports and actions by other organizations:
1. Hunger Alert issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission:
INDIA: Assam government failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of tea plantation workers leading to ten deaths
2. Update on the AHRC Hunger Alert:
INDIA: Two more estate workers die from starvation while the government denies responsibility
3. Preliminary report of the People’s Rights Forum and other oganisations:
Other civil society groups corroborate hunger deaths in Assam tea garden
News reports and articles in the media (important ones only)
1. 19 January 2012:
Inquiry into Cachar hunger deaths
(http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120119/jsp/northeast/story_15021706.jsp) –News report in the Telegraph
2. 5 February 2012:
Swami Agnivesh writes to Assam CM on starvation deaths
(http://www.sentinelassam.com/cachar/story.php?sec=2&subsec=12&id=105944&dtP=2012-02-05&ppr=1) – News report in the Sentinel
3. 9 February 2012:
Tea workers die of starvation
(http://www.asianage.com/india/tea-workers-die-starvation-031) – News report in the Asian Age
Rights group seeks prove into starvation deaths
(http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-02-09/guwahati/31041559_1_starvation-deaths-rights-group-inquiry-panel) – News report in the Times of India
4. 21 February 2012:
Stay hungry: The story behind Assam tea
(http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/arijitsen/148/63192/stay-hungry-the-story-behind-assam-tea.html) – News reports and talk show in CNN-IBN
5. 25 February 2012
Did they die of hunger? The Question Haunts Barak Valley
(http://tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=Ne250212Hunger.asp) – Current Affairs report in the Tehelka Magazine
6. February 2012:
Tea Industry in Barak Valley vis-à-vis Assam and The Plight of The Tea workers (http://swabhimanngo.blogspot.in/2012/02/tea-industry-in-barak-valley-vis-vis.html) –Blog Article in Swabhiman
7. 5 March 2012:
Team of doctors confirm malnutrition of tea workers
(http://www.deccanherald.com/content/232180/team-doctors-confirm-malnutrition-tea.html) – News report in the Deccan Herald
8. 13 March 2012
Dispur rap on garden for deaths
– News report in the Telegraph
9. 1 April 2012:
Bhuban Valley TE labourers not getting loans from PF
(http://sevensisterspost.com/?p=1944) – News report in the Seven Sisters Post
10. 4 April 2012:
Assam government fails to protect right to life with dignity of tea workers
(http://newsblaze.com/story/20120404060251zzzz.nb/topstory.html) – Op-ed article in the Newsblaze
11. 18 May 2012
The dark side of India’s tea industry
(http://www.france24.com/en/20120518-india-tea-estates-assam-malnutrition-workers-rights) – News report and analysis in the France 24 Television
20 May 2012
Fore any clarification or further information contact:
Waliullah Ahmed Laskar
Mobile: +91 9401942234