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INDIA: Sugarcane cutters starving and living in abject poverty in Surat Gujarat

The Bardoli Sugar Factory, under the Co-operative Societies Act, is governed by the Registrar and provides living accommodations for its adivasi workers. Mr. Manilal and Ms. Shilaben are both adivasis contracted to work under the Bardoli Sugar Factory. Both are landless and live in camps provided by their cooperative society employers. Traditionally, they are basket weavers by profession however, in order to earn enough to live, both became sugarcane cutters. Mr. Manilal states, "Otherwise my family members and I would die of starvation".

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

11 April 2005
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HA-07-2005: INDIA: Sugarcane cutters starving and living in abject poverty in Surat Gujarat

INDIA: Malnutrition; extreme poverty; government neglect; caste discrimination; being under-paid
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding the living conditions of adivasis (tribal people) employed as sugarcane cutters at the Bardoli Sugar Factory in Surat, Gujarat. The factory, under the Co-operative Societies Act, is governed by the Registrar and employs the adivasis through a contractor. The factory, in accordance with the act, is further supposed to provide accommodation and facilities for the majority of its workers. However, the current facilities provided to the adivasi workers are appalling and the villagers do not have access to adequate water, shelter, health care or food.

The AHRC urges you to write to the Registrar of the Co-operative Societies Act and other related authorities in Gujarat and Surat bringing to their attention the plight of these sugarcane cutters. Further, please press upon the government's role in this situation and ask that immediate assistance be provided for the victims.?

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

Camp Location: Near Dhodansa, Vaghnera, Tansadabar camps under Bardoli Sugar Factory, taluka Mandvi, District Surat, Gujarat, India
Name of victim: Mr. Manilal, age 34, Ms. Shilaben, age 28, and many other adivasis employed by the Bardoli Sugar Factory.

Case details:

The Bardoli Sugar Factory, under the Co-operative Societies Act, is governed by the Registrar and provides living accommodations for its adivasi workers. Mr. Manilal and Ms. Shilaben are both adivasis contracted to work under the Bardoli Sugar Factory. Both are landless and live in camps provided by their cooperative society employers. Traditionally, they are basket weavers by profession however, in order to earn enough to live, both became sugarcane cutters. Mr. Manilal states, "Otherwise my family members and I would die of starvation".

The living conditions in the camps where the sugarcane cutters live are horrendous. Water is the primary concern in the camps. Water is so scarce that sometimes even drinking water is not available. Bathing is seldom heard of and the women must bring their clothing to their worksite in order to wash them. Toileting is also a great concern and as the camps are crowded with men, women and children, there is no privacy for this basic function.

Moreover, the camps are extremely filthy and riddled with mosquitoes, flies and other insects. Ms. Shilaben laments, "because the camp lies next to an open gutter, we are surrounded by poisonous insects and get bitten frequently". She further explains that the shelters provided by their employers merely consist of a few sticks and a tarpaulin. One cannot stand in their shelters and often times, dogs and cattle from the area join them in their homes.

The food provided at the campsite mainly consists of grains such as wheat, rice, juvar (cream colored grains) and pulses. However, often times, the foodstuff is spoiled, and is dirty, full of stones, broken or infested with worms. If the food is not cleaned and cooked properly the families fall ill. Frequently however, cooking is not possible as firewood can be scarce.

As adivasis, or scheduled tribes, the sugarcane cutters experience much discrimination against them. Often, the cutters are called dirty and lazy by upper caste villagers. Further, though the High court order is to pay Rs. 108/- per Koiyat (pair of workers), it is not followed. The mukardam (middleman who contracts the adivasis to the factory) pays much less to the people. Additionally, while the mukardam keeps detailed work records, he will not release them or provide evidence of due pay.

The adivasis employed by the Bardoli Sugar Factory are in need of immediate assistance. This includes consumable foodstuff, permanent/semi-permanent shelter, medical facilities with at least one nurse, school facilities for children, and hand pumps to provide safe drinking water. Further, the sugarcane workers deserve to receive their full pay and the mukardam system should be abolished. Instead, the factory and its cooperative society should deal directly with the laborers.

Finally, according to Professor S.R. Bhansali's commentary (The Gujarat Co-Operative Societies Act, 1961; 2004 edition) on the Co-operative Societies Act, the Registrar is not just a registering officer, but is expected to provide assistance, supervision, advice and control to the cooperative societies. Thus, as it is the Registrar's role to oversee the actions of cooperative societies, he must take responsibility for the current plight of the sugarcane cutters and provide the immediate steps necessary to improve their living conditions.


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the Registrar of the Cooperative Societies Act reminding him of his role in this matter and asking for immediate assistance to the sugarcane cutters. Additionally, please write to the Chairman of Sugarcane Industry, Chief Minister of Gujarat, and other related government officials in regards to the living conditions and employment concerns of the sugarcane cutters.

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

RE: INDIA: Sugarcane cutters starving and living in abject poverty in Surat, Gujarat

I am deeply disturbed to hear of the poor living conditions that plague many adivasi workers employed under the Bardoli Sugar Factory in Surat, Gujarat. While basket weavers by tradition, these adivasi have had to take on work as sugarcane cutters in order to survive. The sugar factory, under the Cooperative Society Act, must provide living quarters, food, shelter and healthcare for its employees. However, the camps provided by the factories are appalling and the food supply insufficient.

The sugarcane cutters live in shelters made from sticks and tarpaulins, open to animals and other intruders. The food stuff provided is usually rotting or infested with worms and stones. Water and firewood is also scarce; the workers have to bath and wash clothes at work and often cannot even cook their own food.

Further, the sugarcane cutters are employed by the factory through a Mukardam (contractor). The system however, is corrupt and unreliable. Workers are not given their minimum wage and are often handled very poorly. The sugarcane cutters do not have direct contact with the factory and must go through the Mukardam in order to deal with their employers.

As a Cooperative Society, the Bardoli Sugar Factory is governed by the Registrar by the Cooperative Societies Act. It is in this position that the basic needs and rights of the workers are upheld. As of now however, the sugarcane cutters are still in need of consumable foodstuff, permanent/semi-permanent shelter, medical facilities with at least one nurse, school facilities for children, and hand pumps to provide safe drinking water.

I  urge you to investigate this matter further and to appeal to the Registrar that assistance must be provided to improve the living conditions of these adivasi workers. Moreover, I hope that you will press for the Mukardam system to be abolished so that the sugarcane cutters can communicate directly with the Bardoli Sugarcane Factory.

Yours sincerely,


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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Khand Niyamak (Chairman ?Sugar)
Gujarat State
Dr. Jivraj Mehta Bhavan,
Block, No.-8, 2nd Floor,
Gandhinagar-382 010, Gujarat
INDIA
Tel: +91 79 2325 3437, 2325 3435
Fax: +91 79 2325 3435

2. Mr. S. A. Shekh
Nayab Sachiv (deputy Secretary-cooperatives)
Krusi & Sahakar Vibhag, Block -4 2nd Floor
Sachivalay, Gandhinagar-382 010
INDIA
Tel:+91 79 2325 0859?
Fax:+91 79 2322 0417

3. District Registrar
Sahkari Mandli ( Sugar)
Nanpura, Surat- 395 001, Gujarat,
INDIA
Tel: +91 26 1247 0162?
Fax: +91 26 1247 0162

4. Registrar
Gujarat State
Dr. Jivraj Mehta Bhavan, Block- 10,
Gnadhinagar 382 010, Gujarat
INDIA
Tel: +91 79 2325 3868
Fax: +91 79 2325 3877


PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi
Chief Minister's Office
Block No 1, 5th Floor, New Sachivalaya,
Gandhinagar 382 010, Gujarat
INDIA
Tel: +91 79 2323 2611 to 18
Fax: +91 79 2322 2101
Email: cm@gujaratindia.com

2. Shri Justice A. S. Anand
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
Sardar Patel Bhawan, Sansad Marg
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 23074448
Fax: +91 11 23384863
Email: covdnhrc@nic.in, ionhrc@nic.in

3. Mr. Kunwar Singh
Chairman
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
Lok Nayak Bhawan, 5th Floor
New Delhi 110 003
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2462 4628
Fax: 2462 4628
Email: ksingh_chairman.ncst@indiatimes.com

4. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN 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
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

5. Mr. Miloon Kothari
UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing
Att: Ms. Cecilia Moller
Room 4-066/010
UNOG-OHCHR, CH-1211, Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9265
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

6. Mr. Pedro Medrano Rojas
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg
Visant Vihar
New Delhi 110 057
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2615 0019


Thank you.

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