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INDIA: Entire village community neglected and facing starvation in West Bengal

The Kumarpukur village, located only 17 km from Kolkata, is situated on fertile lands that provide fruits and vegetables for the city on a daily basis. However, 529 indigenous people currently residing in the village are suffering from extreme hunger and malnutrition. The villagers are also lacking several other basic facilities that include food, water, education, health care facilities and electricity.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

27 June 2005
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HA-13-2005: INDIA: Entire village community neglected and facing starvation in West Bengal

INDIA: Hunger; government inaction and neglect; caste discrimination; landlessness; government threats and intimidation
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received new information from Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) regarding the appalling starvation situation in the South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal. The entire community, mainly made up of villagers belonging to the Munda indigenous group, has been facing hunger for many months. Many are on the verge of death.

Moreover, it has been brought to our attention that on at least two occasions, the villagers have been threatened by government authorities to keep quite about their current situation. Local government officials from the Marxist party as well as uniformed policemen have visited the village warning the community not to speak to outsiders.

There have been many other hunger cases reported in the West Bengal region and the situation has not improved. The AHRC urges you to write to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and related authorities requesting for direct intervention in this matter and that steps be taken to eradicate hunger in the State.

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

Location: Kumarpukur Village, Kheadhah No. 1 Block, Baruipur, South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal          
Persons affected: 592 landless labourers residing in the village                         

The Kumarpukur village, located only 17 km from Kolkata, is situated on fertile lands that provide fruits and vegetables for the city on a daily basis. However, 529 indigenous people currently residing in the village are suffering from extreme hunger and malnutrition. The villagers are also lacking several other basic facilities that include food, water, education, health care facilities and electricity.

Many of the villagers belonging to the Munda community have had to rely on eating leaves and roots to survive. Employed as daily wage labourers on farms, the lack of food production during the summer season means no one is working. No work then means no food for the majority of the tribes people, and no one can afford the minimum "two square meals" needed per day in order to survive.

Villagers Ajit Munda, Mathor Munda, Badia Munda and Shiba Munda jointly reported that land was supposed to be distributed to these landless labourers under government schemes. However, land was not received by any of the villagers and currently, the Munda community live in dilapidated homes. In fact, despite promises of development in the South 24 Parganas District, 64 villages have yet to see improvements in their communities.

Many local government officials from the affected area have commented on the wretched state of the villagers who are compelled to live with no food. Ms. Sharmistha Das of the Sub Divisional Office in Baruipur and Mr. Badiya Munda of the Gram Panchayat (village council) both admitted that severe hunger and starvation is occurring in the area. Mr. Dhananjoy, a Kheadhah No. 1 Panchayat Officer, further added that government departments had already been informed of the terrible conditions in these villages and that they were very much concerned with the matter. Mr. Shekhar Sen, the Block Development Officer in Sonarpur, also admitted that as the villagers in Kumarpukur are landless labourers, their village is underdeveloped and seriously lacking in food.

Finally, Mr. Sisir Patitundi, Revenue Inspector at the Department of Land Reform, commented that unfortunately the village areas affected are marked as low lands and therefore, not subject to the government's land distribution scheme. Thus, the government order for land to be leased to these victims has been stopped. To date however, no satisfactory steps have been taken to address these issues.

On the other hand, many other officials take the position that much has already been done for the village and others in the district. Mr. Vivek Kumar, the District Magistrate of 24 Parganas, reported that many schemes in the area have been instituted to develop all villages in the area. Mr. Bimal Mistri, president of the Zilla Praishad (District Council), stated that Rs. 160,000 had been sanctioned for the development of these villages. Dr. Pradip Mondal, Chief Medical Officer of Health in the district, also noted that while a primary heath facility was built in the community, it has not opened as yet. Therefore, the Munda indigenous community has not seen any development in Kumarpukur and are growing frustrated with the false promises the administration has made to better their situation. In the meantime they continue to go hungry.

Many of the affected villagers have also received threats by local government authorities urging them not to speak of the current hunger situation in Kumarpukur. On May 1, 2005, Mr. Jayanta Bhattacharjee of the ruling Marxist Party (CPIM) visited the village and asked the residents not to voice their concerns to reporters or human rights workers in the area. Mr. Badia Munda confirmed the visit to local media. On May 3, 2005, uniformed policemen in police vehicles also visited the community and warned villagers not to speak to outsiders.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

Masum adds, "we condemn with the strongest words the negligence and inaction of the government to save the lives of villagers thus violating Article - 21 of the Constitution of India. There are safeguards in place for indigenous people in the Indian Constitution (Article - 46) as well."

Article 21 ensures the protection of life and personal liberty where no person shall be deprived of his or her life except according to procedure established by law.

Article 46 promotes the economic and educational interest of scheduled castes, tribes and other weaker sections where the State must protect against the social injustice and all forms of exploitations among indigenous and 'untouchable' communities.

Masum further comments, "Despite the number of projects under Central and State-run welfare schemes, the Kumarpukur villagers are no longer able to survive. This is due to direct negligence of the government."


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and other related officials urging them to investigate the matter and ensure that the appropriate measures be taken to provide assistance and prevent hunger in the villages and tribal communities. In order to address the situation, the following provisions should be made for the victims in the State:

1. All projects under the welfare scheme be implemented with active participation from the starving villages.
2. Proper rehabilitation be introduced to the victims.
3. A "food for work" programme be implemented.
4. Unutilised vested lands be distributed among the labourers.
5. Houses with latrines, drinking water, and electricity be built.
6. Below Poverty Line and similar ration cards be distributed to the affected families.
7. The Primary Health Centre be opened immediately.

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Dear Mr. Bhattacharjee

Re: INDIA: Entire village community neglected and facing starvation in West Bengal

I am writing to you regarding the terrible and shocking hunger situation that prevails in the South 24 Parganas District in West Bengal. It was reported that at least 529 landless labourers belonging to the Munda indigenous community in Kumarpukur are currently facing starvation and malnutrition in the village. Many have been driven to eat roots and leaves in order to sustain their hungry bellies. The villagers are also lacking several other basic facilities that include food, water, education, primary health care facilities and electricity.

As an indigenous community, the villagers in Kumarpukur and several other locations in the district are awaiting for land to be distributed under government schemes. This would allow them to provide for their livelihoods. However, Mr. Sisir Patitundi, Revenue Inspector at the Department of Land Reform, apparently commented that because the village areas where the tribes people reside are marked as low lands, they are not subject to the government's land distribution scheme. Thus, the government order for land to be leased to these victims has been stopped and the current situation has not been addressed. 

Several government officials agree that an appalling hunger situation persists in the South 24 Parganas District. Ms. Sharmistha Das of the Sub Divisional Office in Baruipur, Mr. Badiya Munda of the Gram Panchayat, Mr. Shekhar Sen, the Block Development Officer in Sonarpur, and others all admitted that as the villagers in Kumarpukur are landless labourers, their village is underdeveloped and seriously lacking in food.  However, several other authorities including Mr. Bimal Mistri, president of the Zilla Praishad and District Magistrate Vivek Kumar argue that much development has been taken on behalf of the villages. In the meantime, the villagers continue to suffer.

Finally, it has come to my attention that threats have been made against the hunger victims to keep quite on the subject on two occasions. On May 1, 2005, Mr. Jayanta Bhattacharjee of the ruling Marxist Party (CPIM) visited the village and asked the residents not to voice their concerns to reporters or human rights workers in the area. Mr. Badia Munda confirmed the visit to local media. On May 3, 2005, uniformed policemen in police vehicles also visited the community and warned villagers not to speak to outsiders. I am deeply disturbed to learn that government authorities would forcibly try to quieten the plight of the Munda community.

I urge you to investigate this matter and to provide the appropriate immediate assistance to the affected indigenous people in order to prevent starvation from continuing. This should include:

1. All projects under the welfare scheme be implemented with active participation from the starving villages.
2. Proper rehabilitation be introduced to the victims.
3. A "food for work" programme be implemented.
4. Unutilised vested lands be distributed among the labourers.
5. Houses with latrines, drinking water, and electricity be built.
6. Below Poverty Line and similar ration cards be distributed to the affected families.
7. The Primary Health Centre be opened immediately.

Furthermore, I request that the situation in South 24 Parganas is monitored closely and that long-term steps be put in place to ensure that the villagers in the district can provide for their own livelihoods.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2214 5555 (O) / 2280 0631 (R)
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480 / 2214 1341
E-mail: cm@wb.gov.in, cm@writerscal.gov.in


PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Mr. Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2252 2628

2. Mr. Vivek Kumar
District Magistrate - South 24 Parganas District
District Magistrate Bungalow
1 Thackery Road
Alipur, Kolkata - 700027
INDIA
Tel: 91 33 2479 3713
Fax: 91 33 2479 3456

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

4. 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: ionhrc@hub.nic.in or chairnhrc@nic.in

5. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
Chairperson
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Calcutta-700027
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in

6. Mr. Jean Ziegler
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, OHCHR-UNOG
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
SWITZERLAND
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

7. 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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