Historians tell us of the colonial era stories of miserable conditions of workers, even bonded labour, in tea plantations of eastern India. However, the situation improved after independence. In the past few decades the tea industry has made steady profits even in worst years of economic downturn. And that is why reports of starvation
deaths in tea plantations of Assam are so shocking. An Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report says that the Assam Government has failed to ensure the right to life with dignity of plantation workers leading to ten deaths, allegedly due to starvation in Cachar district since October 2011. (See link below for full report)
The AHRC, which has taken up the issue with concerned authorities in Guwahati and New Delhi, including with the National Human Rights Commission, cited a report from the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), a human rights
group based in Assam that 10 workers died of starvation after sickness afflicted by decades of harsh working conditions. It says that the workers are often paid an average wage of Rs 55 as against the minimum wage of Rs 100 per day in Assam.
These 10 workers were among about 500 permanent and another 500 casual workers who lost their jobs in October 2011after a private company, Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, closed down the estate in which they were working. Even during their employment, the workers were said to be overworked and paid very low wages without being provided basic medical facilities. After closure, the payment of their wages and provident fund were suspended, according to the report.
The report says that 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. 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 for the deaths. Even Public Distribution System (PDS)
and National Rural Health Mission have not reached them and employment under MG-NREGS has been just too little. The report also cites names of many workers and their families who have been identified as APL (Above Poverty Line) despite the fact that they live in abject poverty and near starvation levels of subsistence.
According to the BHRC report, the workers, often overworked without payment, were not provided any medical facilities, safe drinking water and sanitation due to them under the 1951 Act. It says that the local administration failed to protect the workers despite adequate warning. The report further warns that many more workers and their families are vulnerable as they suffer from lack of food and medical treatment. It cites names of many students who have given up studies and have taken to collecting firewood from the jungles for subsistence. It says that without emergency assistance of food and medicines, they may face the same fate as the 10 deceased workers.
According to the report, following are the names of the deceased at the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate, Cachar district, Assam, since October 2011: 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; Ramashish Dushad, 80.
For more information see the links below: