8 feb 2011
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), a human rights group based in Assam state that 10 workers died from starvation after their health deteriorated due to working conditions that failed to guarantee their life with dignity for decades. After a private company, Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate closed down the estate in which they were working in October 8, 2011, about 500 permanent and another 500 casual workers lost their jobs and so far 10 workers died of lack of food and proper medical treatment. According to the fact-finding mission conducted by the BHRPC on January 27, 2012, 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 minimum wage, 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.
According to the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), 10 workers died of starvation and lack of medical treatment after the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate (Estate) was closed in October 8, 2011. The Estate had been running since British colonisation of India with around 1000 workers in Cachar district of Assam state, India. The closure led to around 500 permanent workers and another 500 casual workers becoming jobless. Without proper dialogue among workers and the Estate and the delay of payment for nine weeks’ wages and of provident funds before the closure, all workers have lost their livelihoods and were exposed to the food and health insecurity.
Until today, 10 workers, Rameshwar Kurmi (45), Subhasini Paul (80), Shachindra Ree (32), Shyamacharan Bauri (55), Nagendra Bauri (55), Sonamani Pandey (40), Bharati Kal (45), Susham Tanti (35), Ratna Goala (50), and Ramashish Dushad (80) died suffering from lack of food and medical treatment. Some became sick after prolonged hard labour in the plantation and their health condition worsened after losing their jobs since they cannot afford to purchase food or medicines.
Other workers have been suffering from various sicknesses but have never received medical treatment. Mr. Prakash Ghatowar (80) and his daughter-in-law Moni Ghatowar (32) of Didarkhush Grant have pain in their legs. Prakash’s grandchildren Pinki Ghatowar (17), Kamalabati Ghatowar (15) and Rinki Ghatowar (12) are compelled to collect firewood from the far off jungles and sell them at the markets giving up their studies.
Sricharan Bauri was a permanent worker of the Estate but has not received food subsidy or medical treatment for last six months, and as a result, his mother Mrs. Belbati Bauri (75 years old) finds it difficult to manage daily life. Belbati gets weaker and sick and may face death soon. In spite of the closure of the Estate, they are still identified as an Above the Poverty Line (APL) family which does not entitle them to receive various government subsidies targeting the poor and therefore have not received any assistance from the administration. Other family members collect firewood to pay for food and medicines for the sick family members.
Another worker Mr. Putul Bauri (50 years old) also has pain in his legs. He testified that for decades while working in the Estate, the workers including him suffered a lot from low wages, overwork, and lack of basic facilities that can ensure their life with dignity.
In fact, since started, the workers have been deprived of their basic rights as workers and other basic facilities, which are ensured by the Plantation Labour Act 1951 as well as by other national policies such as the Public Food Distribution Scheme (PDS) or health care system. The average daily wage was around 55 rupees (1.12 USD) which is far less than the minimum wage in Assam, 100 rupees. The workers often overworked, for which they were not paid. The workers have not been provided any medical facilities, safe drinking water and sanitation under the Act. Thus, the deceased workers as testified did not face death just due to lack of food and medical treatment after the closure, but the workers’ rights to food and health have been violated for decades infringing the Constitution of India, the Plantation Labour Act, and the international human rights laws which legally bind the government.
The BHRPC discovered that the health centre under the National Rural Health Mission does not function properly as it is allegedly run by an unqualified practitioner. Medicines are not available either. The canal constructed under the MGNREGS aiming to guarantee 100 day-employment in rural area for the poor is the only source of water for the workers in this area. Water from canal has been used for multiple purposes such as washing, cooking and drinking. According to the workers, the MGNREGS hardly provides days for employment.
When the Estate was winding up, the workers were told that the Estate was suffering loss and would recover very soon, which did not happen. They were even told that they had better forget the delayed wages. The Estate closed down on October 8, 2011 and the government authorities did not make any intervention to ensure the fundamental rights of workers. The Estate rather tried to suppress the protest of the workers who demanded due wages and other assistances. The administration failed to make intervention when the workers approached them to ask for assistance. The Deputy Commissioner of Cachar district assured that he would intervene but no action was taken at that time.
The administration made promises, which never translated into reality. The meeting in the office of the Deputy Commissioner resolved that the Estate would be opened on January 23, 2012, which did not happen till today. On January 25, Additional District Commissioner (ADC) Mr. Debashish Chakrabarti, ADC Mr. S. K. Das, Assistant Labour Commissioner Mr. K. Singson, the MLA and the Secretary of Barak Cha Shramik Union Mr. Dinesh Prasad Goala, Assistant Manager of the Tea Estate Mr. Fulan Barbhuiya and others participated in a meeting held in the conference hall of the Deputy Commissioner. This meeting decided that a committee be formed under chairmanship of the SDO (civil) of Lakhipur Sub Division to manage the estate.
Yet, there has been no action taken to provide proper compensation for the deceased and their families and to restart the plantation with legitimate working conditions guaranteeing the rights of workers. At present, more workers and their families suffer from lack of food and medical treatment. Without immediate assistance for food and health, they may face the same fate as the 10 deceased workers. It is the government’s responsibility to immediately provide medical support and food subsidy to protect the life of workers in accordance with its obligations under national and international laws.
The local human rights group has already filed a complaint to the Assam Human Rights Commission, yet no response has been received so far.
Please express your deep concern about the deceased workers and other workers who lost their job and currently suffer from starvation and lack of medical treatment by sending letters to the government authorities listed below. Please note that the Assam government fails to implement the national law that ensure the rights of plantation workers and further ignore the international human rights laws to ensure the right to life w
ith dignity. The AHRC will send a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to adequate food and on the right to health respectively.
Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-002-2012
7 February 2012