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INDIA: Tea plantation workers and their families suffer night blindness due to malnutrition in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal

In recent years, tea garden labourers in West Bengal have suffered from serious starvation and hunger-related problems. For the last three years, night blindness caused by malnutrition has spread rapidly in the Raimatang tea garden, in the Dooars area Jalpaiguri district. According to pharmacist Shibshankar Datta, at least 250 tea garden labourers are currently suffering from the disease. The disease is caused by the lack of nutritious foodstuff experienced by the labourers. It affects the full realization of their right to life, which the state government of West Bengal is responsible to protect. Moreover, the management of the tea garden, which is responsible to provide food to their employees, has not paid them their wages regularly, ignoring the fact that they do not have access to sufficiently nutritious food.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

19 July 2005

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HA-15-2005: INDIA: Tea plantation workers and their families suffer night blindness due to malnutrition in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal

INDIA: Malnutrition and hunger; government inaction and neglect; poverty
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Masum about the case of at least 250 tea garden labourers in Raimatang, Jalpaiguri district, who are suffering from night blindness due to a deficiency of vitamin A caused by malnutrition.

According to the information received, the management of the tea garden is not taking any steps to control the disease, nor does it regularly pay the workers their wages.

Although the state Health Minister of West Bengal has been informed about the situation of the victims, many whom are children, his department ignored the case, cynically stating that the night blindness was caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.

The AHRC urges you to intervene into this matter by writing to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the District Magistrate of Jalpaguri to demand the immediate provision of adequate nutrition and medical treatment to the victims and other tea garden labourers, an investigation into the possible failures of the tea garden management, and the provision of adequate compensation to those who are suffering from the effects of the malnutrition.

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

Victims: Atleast 250 tea garden labourers including Sandip Lama (25), Padammani Thakur (30), Shantimaya Limbu, Maila Lama, Kajol Lohar (8), and Aniket Kumar (5).
Location: Raimatang tea garden, Dooars area, Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal.

In recent years, tea garden labourers in West Bengal have suffered from serious starvation and hunger-related problems. For the last three years, night blindness caused by malnutrition has spread rapidly in the Raimatang tea garden, in the Dooars area Jalpaiguri district. According to pharmacist Shibshankar Datta, at least 250 tea garden labourers are currently suffering from the disease. The disease is caused by the lack of nutritious foodstuff experienced by the labourers. It affects the full realization of their right to life, which the state government of West Bengal is responsible to protect. Moreover, the management of the tea garden, which is responsible to provide food to their employees, has not paid them their wages regularly, ignoring the fact that they do not have access to sufficiently nutritious food.

Not only men like Sandip Lama (25), but also women like Padammani Thakur (30), Shantimaya Limbu, and Maila Lama are suffering from the disease. Even children like Kajol Lohar (8), daughter of Jullie Devi, and Aniket Kumar (5), are suffering from night blindness.

Nigh blindness is cause by a deficiency of vitamin A, which in this case is due to the desperate food situation of the labourers. If it is not treated by the additional intake of vitamin A, it can eventually reach dangerous levels and result in complete and irreversible blindness. In early stages, night blindness can be corrected relatively simple through the intake of vitamin A. On children, a lack of vitamin A can have other serious effects, such as growth retardation and weakening of the immune system. Thus, the tea garden labourers and their families could be easily cured if sufficient food or vitamin A capsules were provided to them.

The poor condition of the labourers has not gone unnoticed by the tea garden management and the responsible state agencies, however, they have failed to intervene to improve the situation. Sunila Kumar, Assistant Manager of the Raimatang tea garden, has admitted the poor condition and, according to himself, informed the Health & Family Department of West Bengal about it. Similarly, Paban Lakhra, member of the Legislative Assembly of West Bengal for the Kalchini constituency, has informed the Health Minister of West Bengal, urging him to take immediate measures to provide relief to the victims. Bhushan Chakraborty, Chief Medical Officer (Health) of Jalpaiguri, stated that the disease is caused by malnutrition, assuring that health camps would be set up for treatment. In contrast, officials from the Department of Health cynically stated that the night blindness is caused by excessive consumption of Country Liquor.

However, so far nothing has happened, and both the tea garden management and the state government, especially the Health Minister, have failed to fulfil their responsibilities for the labourers. The state government ignores the situation and fails to provide adequate food to the labourers, and the tea garden management is not taking any steps to control and check the disease, nor has it paid them their wages regularly.


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please send a letter to the officials addressed below and urge them to take immediate action to provide sufficiently nutritious food and vitamin A capsules to those who suffer from night blindness and vitamin A deficiency, and to investigate the failure of the tea garden management to fulfil its responsibilities for the labourers.

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Re: INDIA: Tea plantation workers and their families suffer night blindness due to malnutrition in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal

Victims: Sandip Lama (25), Padammani Thakur (30), Shantimaya Limbu, Maila Lama, Kajol Lohar (8), Aniket Kumar (5), and at least 250 other tea garden labourers.
Location: Raimatang tea garden, Dooars area, Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal.

It has come to my attention that at least 250 tea garden labourers in Raimatang, Jalpaiguri district, are suffering from night blindness due to an acute lack of sufficiently nutritious food. According to the information I have received, the victims are children, adults and elderly alike. Among them are men like Sandip Lama (25), women like Padammani Thakur (30), Shantimaya Limbu, and Maila Lama, and even children like Kajol Lohar (8), daughter of Jullie Devi, and Aniket Kumar (5).

The disease of night blindness is caused by a vitamin A deficiency, which in turn is a consequence of the insufficient food situation of the labourers. It can lead to complete and irreversible blindness, while children are likely suffer growth retardation from it. However, these consequences could be prevented and night blindness cured easily through the immediate provision of nutritious food and of vitamin A capsules to the labourers.

The poor condition of these labourers has not gone unnoticed by the tea garden management and the responsible state agencies, however, they have failed to intervene to improve their situation. Sunila Kumar, Assistant Manager of the Raimatang tea garden, has admitted the poor condition and, according to himself, informed the Health & Family Department of West Bengal about it. Similarly, Paban Lakhra, member of the Legislative Assembly of West Bengal for the Kalchini constituency, has informed the Health Minister of West Bengal, urging him to take immediate measures to provide relief to the victims. Bhushan Chakraborty, Chief Medical Officer (Health) of Jalpaiguri, stated that the disease is caused by malnutrition, assuring that health camps would be set up for treatment.

However, so far nothing has happened. The labourers continue to struggle for food and suffer from the disease, which has been spreading rapidly in the area for the last three years. Officers of the Department for Health have blamed the labourers for their sufferings, saying the disease is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol, a statement that appears absurd and cynical when regarding that even children are among those affected by the night blindness. Their current situation can be remedied simply by adequate food provisions.

I hereby urge you to ensure that the Raimatang tea garden labourers be provided with sufficiently nutritious food and vitamin A capsules immediately. Moreover, I urge you to investigate the tea garden management’s failure to control the disease and provide food and regularly pay wages to their employees.

I look for your immediate intervention in this matter.

Sincerely yours,


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PLEASE SEND A LETTER 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
Email: cm@wb.gov.in , cm@writerscal.gov.in 

2. Mr. A. Subdiah
District Magistrate of Jalpaguri
Collectorate Building Dist - Jalpaiguri
West Bengal 735101
Tel: +91 35 6123 0127
Fax: +91 35 6122 4347/ 35 6122 4170
Email: dm-jpg@wb.nic.in

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra
Minister in Charge
State Health & Family Welfare Department
Writers’ Buildings
Kolkata 700001
Tel.: +91 33 22145600/ Ext: 4117
Email: michealth@wb.gov.in
Fax: +91 33 2357 7907

2. Mr. Pratyush Mukherjee
Minister of State
State Health & Family Welfare Departmen
Writers’ Buildings
Kolkata 700001
Tel.: +91 33 2214 5801; 2214 5600/ Ext: 4582 or 4802
Email: moshealth@wb.gov.in
Fax: +91 33 2357 7907

3. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
Chairperson
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Calcutta-700027
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2479 7259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 2479 9633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in

4. Justice A.S.Anand
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2338 2742
Fax: +91 11 2338 4863
Email: covdnhrc@nic.in , ionhrc@nic.in

5. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Attn: Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, C/o OHCHR
CH-1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

6. Mr. Gian Pietro Bordignon
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2615 0000
Fax: +91 11 2615 0019
Email: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme -- Hunger Alert

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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