SILCHAR, May 20 – Lakhi Prasad Dushad, aged about 38 years and a resident of North bank division of the Bhuvan Valley Tea Estate in Barak Valley allegedly died recently of starvation. He was a permanent worker of the tea estate. This incident was brought to light by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC). The BHRPC had earlier reported 14 deaths that were found to be caused by starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper medical care in this south Assam tea garden. With this latest death the toll stands at 15, according to information available with the BHRPC.
According to 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 January 27 2012.
According to teh BHRPC fact-finding report, 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 Rs 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 was 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 Dushad, a team from the BHRPC visited the garden and spoke with his family and other labourers on May 3. The team was informed that the immediate cause of the death apparently was tuberculosis. But the labourers contendend that because of long time malnutrition the deceased had been very weak and vulnerable to attack by such deseases. 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, theBHRPC 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 life 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.
At this point, the BHRPC is very concerned over the plight of the survivors of 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 suplementary 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 Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of have also been informed.