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INDIA: Intolerable delay in implementation of court ruling exacerbates hunger among Dalit community in Uttaranchal

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

27 October 2004

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HA-05-2004: INDIA: Intolerable delay in implementation of court ruling exacerbates hunger among Dalit community in Uttaranchal

INDIA: Hunger, denial of right to livelihood, delays in justice, corruption
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received new information from the Social Development Foundation, Delhi, India about a village of impoverished Dalits ('untouchables') in Uttaranchal state facing severe hunger after the local authorities have failed to implement a Supreme Court order granting them rights over land. The land, which was stolen by a local company also responsible for demolishing the people's village, has been illegally sold and occupied by landlords in collusion with local authorities.

The AHRC urges you to write to the Chief Minister of Uttaranchal and demand that he intervene and see the order of the Supreme Court is implemented without further delay.

Urgent Appeals Desk—Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Location: Ambedkhar settlement, Pachchawala area, Kundeshwari village, Kashipur sub-district, Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar district, Uttaranchal state (formerly in Uttar Pradesh)    
Persons affected: Around 150 Dalit families
Reasons for hunger: Illegal eviction and landlessness; inaction and corruption among local authorities

Over eight months after the Supreme Court of India, the highest court in the country, declared that around 150 Dalit families in Ambedkhar settlement have legal rights to over one-thousand acres of land in Kashipur sub-district, Uttaranchal, the state government has not yet complied with the order.

The Dalit community of Ambedkhar settlement had been legally tilling the land in question for over thirty years. In 1992, a local government official declared it to be 'surplus land' under state law, which means that legal rights to the land could be granted to the villagers. (For a discussion on the mechanics of surplus land in another state see, 'A comment on the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act', by John Abraham.) However, after that, a local company called M/s Escort Farms Ltd contested the granting of title in the Allahabad High Court. Meantime, the director of the company used his local influence to have the villagers violently and illegally evicted in 1993 with the help of local police and officials, and their village demolished. Over 80 of the villagers were detained for eight days on charges of disturbing the peace.

Nonetheless, in May 1995 the court decided against the company and ordered it to pay one million rupees in compensation, to be used for the rehabilitation and resettlement of the villagers. The company appealed, and the case went to the Supreme Court, which finally gave its decision, also in favour of the Dalit villagers, this February 2004. The court ordered unequivocally that the state take control of the land with a view to returning it to the affected community.

However, the state government has to date failed to act to see that the land is returned, despite the efforts of local human rights organisations to raise attention to the matter. In fact, the illegal sale and occupation of the land by the company involved, in connivance with local authorities, is reported to have continued unabated. This is despite the fact that the Social Development Foundation has on at least one occasion directly approached state government ministers, together with the affected villagers, to inform them of these activities.

Meanwhile, hunger is prevalent in the community, which has struggled to survive since the eviction. Villagers such as Veer Singh, who works as a sugarcane cutter for under the minimum wage, do not eat until coming back from work at the end of the day. On a visit to the village by the Social Development Foundation he told them that, "One of my sons died due to lack of medication. I had no money for the doctor's fees. It is painful that sometimes we don’t have money to buy anything… Many days we have to live without any rations."

Fifty-two-year-old Dhoom Singh, who has one son and four daughters, has been without land since the eviction, and his children have had to work as labourers. He has remarked that,

"The situation is difficult for us, as there is no work. I could never get my children educated. It is over 10 years now that we are out of our places and nothing has been done. We people have had faith in courts as people like you have been helping us, yet where do we go to get our livelihood. Poor people cannot wait. They have to arrange for their next day's meal and they have saved a lot and contributed for court cases. Till the Allahabad High court, still many people were around, but after the matter was in the Supreme Court, people completely lost faith in the judiciary. They cannot wait for so long."


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The remarks by Dhoom Singh go to the heart of the concern that the AHRC has over delays in justice as a primary cause for the perpetuation of gross human rights abuses in South Asia. Often, delays are blamed on administrative or bureaucratic inefficiency. However, the AHRC asserts that in many cases the reasons for delays are primarily deliberate: the rights of victims are invariably wilfully neglected, and often obstructed, by corrupt state agents who instead of implementing court orders openly collude with the perpetrators of abuses. That appears to be the case in this instance, as there can be no other explanation for an eight-month delay in implementing the Supreme Court order. The consequences, apart from a lack of relief, are--as described by Dhoom Singh--that people lose confidence in the capacity of the judicial system to do anything for them at all, which in turn threatens all other rights as citizens turn to extrajudicial means to solve their problems. Those may include violence.

The AHRC has also pointed out on numerous occasions that Dalits and other marginalised groups in India typically do not have legal titles to anything. Across India, villagers like Veer Singh and Dhoom Singh lack title over even the smallest plots of land on which they may be allowed to live, on the fringes of towns and villages, until the concerned authorities find some alternative use for it. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that despite court orders granting them rights over the land, the local landlords and government officials have successfully obstructed attempts at justice.


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the Chief Minister of Uttaranchal to demand that he act to see the Supreme Court order implemented without further delay. A sample letter follows.

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Dear Mr Tiwari

Re: Delay in implementing Supreme Court ruling causing hunger among Dalit community in Kashipur

I am deeply disturbed to hear that some eight months after the Supreme Court declaring over one-thousand acres of land in Kashipur as surplus, the intended beneficiaries--around 150 Dalit families--have not been granted access to the land in accordance with the court's order.  

According to information I have received, the Dalit community of Ambedkhar settlement in Kashipur sub-district had been legally tilling the land in question for over thirty years. However, after it was declared surplus in 1992 a local company, M/s Escort Farms Ltd, contested the granting of title in the Allahabad High Court. Meantime, the director of the company used his local influence to have the villagers violently and illegally evicted with the help of local police and officials, and their village demolished. After the court decided against the company and ordered it to pay compensation for the purpose of resettling and rehabilitating the villagers, the case went to the Supreme Court, which finally gave its decision, also in favour of the Dalit villagers, this February 2004. The court ordered unequivocally that the state take control of the land with a view to returning it to the affected community.

After a decade of struggles, one would have hoped that your administration would act to protect the rights of the affected persons, in compliance with the court's order, at the nearest possible date. However, I have been informed that since the date of the judgment, no action has been taken to that end. In fact, I have been led to understand that illegal sale and occupation of the land by the company involved, in connivance with local authorities, has continued unabated.  

Your government's inexplicable delay in resettling the villagers after both the high court and the Supreme Court have decided in their favour is of particular concern as it relates to the ability of the 150 affected families to feed themselves. Since being evicted from their farms, the Dalit villagers have struggled to survive, and each day that goes by is an additional burden for them. In this regard, I would like to remind you that you have obligations under international and national law to all persons residing in the state of Uttaranchal to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food.

As you are now aware fully aware of the plight of these villagers and have the means to do something quickly and effectively to address it, I trust you will ensure that the Supreme Court order is implemented without any further delay.  

Yours sincerely

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

Mr N D Tiwari
Chief Minister of Uttaranchal
Chief Minister’s Secretariat
Dehradun
Uttaranchal
INDIA
Fax: + 91-135-275 5102 / 266 5722
Tel: +91-135-275 5100


PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax: +91-11-23383792/23381508

 2. Justice A. S. Anand
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhaven, Sansad Marg,
New Delhi 110 001
INDIA
Tel: + 91 11 23346244
Fax: + 91 11 23366537
E-mail: mailto:ionhrc@hub.nic.inor chairnhrc@nic.in

3. The District Magistrate
Shaheed Udham Singh Nagar
Uttaranchal State
INDIA

4. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UNCHR Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066  
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Switzerland
Fax: 41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

5. Mr Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan,
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Tel: +66-2-6554115
Fax: +66-2-6554413
Email: mailto:Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or mailto:Bkk.unescap@un.org

6. Mr Pedro Medrano Rojas
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg,
Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91-11-26150000
Fax: +91-11-26150019
Email: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme—Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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