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UPDATE (India): Government action inadequate in providing rehabilitation to displaced hunger victims and continued starvation death in Murshidabad, West Bengal

In late October, it was reported to the AHRC that the block administration of Murshidabad had proposed a rehabilitation programme for displaced hunger victims from the Dayarampur, Parashpur and Taltali villages who currently have no land or means to provide for their livelihoods due to the Padma River erosion. In the middle of the Padma River lies an island, a piece of land made by the river itself many years ago, that was given to landless tillers in 1974 by the governor of West Bengal under the West Bengal Land Reform Act 1955. The government has now proposed that the displaced villagers from Jalangi be relocated to this piece of land.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Update on Hunger Alert

11 November 2005

[Re: HU-07-2005: Starvation deaths continue despite government's commitment to provide food assistance in West Bengal; UA-161-2005: INDIA: Human rights defender physically assaulted, threatened and detained by government officials; HU-04-2005: INDIA: UNICEF still avoiding responsibility in providing assistance to starving women and children in West Bengal; UA-59-2005: INDIA: Police attack on human rights defender and his family in Murshidabad, West Bengal; HA-02-2005: INDIA: Starvation deaths occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal]
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HU-09-2005: UPDATE (India): Government action inadequate in providing rehabilitation to displaced hunger victims and continued starvation death in Murshidabad, West Bengal

INDIA: Hunger and starvation; inadequate government action; right to life
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information from Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) regarding recent plans proposed by the government to address the terrible living conditions in Jalangi, Murshidabad, West Bengal. The plans to relocate displaced villagers from several villages in Jalangi however do not provide any permanent solutions to their concerns. Additionally, the AHRC was also informed that another starvation death has occurred. Thus, even though names had been submitted to Public Distribution Shops, to date no one has been provided with food assistance.

The AHRC asks you to contact the Chief Minister of West Bengal and all other relevant authorities urging them to immediately intervene in the hunger situation in Jalangi and remedy the systemic failures in the Public Distribution System. Furthermore, please call on the local authorities to propose a feasible rehabilitation programme for the victims.

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

In late October, it was reported to the AHRC that the block administration of Murshidabad had proposed a rehabilitation programme for displaced hunger victims from the Dayarampur, Parashpur and Taltali villages who currently have no land or means to provide for their livelihoods due to the Padma River erosion. In the middle of the Padma River lies an island, a piece of land made by the river itself many years ago, that was given to landless tillers in 1974 by the governor of West Bengal under the West Bengal Land Reform Act 1955. The government has now proposed that the displaced villagers from Jalangi be relocated to this piece of land.

Several problems exist in this plan and point to why it is an ineffective remedy to the situation in Jalangi. First, because the land was originally given to landless tillers, they are the ones who have legal claim to it and therefore it cannot be used for rehabilitation purposes. Also, the land itself is not fit for residential use, as water, sanitation, electricity and communication systems are all lacking. Finally, taking into consideration the rapid and swift changes occurring along the banks of the Padma River, the land may also in time be susceptible to erosion and this proposal does not address the continuous loss of land existing in the area.

The local administration is reported to have already started moving victims to the deposited land. Currently, displaced villagers from the Udaynagar and Suryanagar colonies are forcibly being taken to land by the district administration, with the help of the police.

Meanwhile, the Public Distribution System (PDS) is still failing to provide assistance to the hunger victims in Jalangi. The 500-plus villagers, whose names had been placed in ration shops in September 2005, have not been receiving food assistance. The lists were also distributed to the District Magistrate Office and Block Development Office and upon investigation all the victims mentioned were found to be genuinely suffering from starvation and malnutrition. However, ration shop dealers have not been distributing food on claims that they have not received a government order to do so. When questioned on the current status of food assistance to the victims, Mr. Gulam Ali Ansari, Additional District Magistrate (General) of Murshidabad responded that he had to enquire further about the matter.

Tragically, as a result of the government dragging its feet, on October 29, 2005, another man who was listed under the PDS list died of starvation and hunger related illnesses. Ummat Ali Shah did not receive any food assistance before he died.
 
BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

For over 10 years, the Padma River has been eroding. Many homes and livelihoods have disappeared because of the swelling river, and the result has been the starvation of villagers in Jalangi. In recent years, the erosion has worsened and the hunger situation has grown significantly.

Several hunger deaths have been reported in the area. Please see HA-02-2005 for more details pertaining on the persisting hunger crisis. Moreover, there have now been questions on more that one occasion regarding the government's lack of sufficient and appropriate action in trying to address the victims hunger and land needs. Please see HU-07-2005 for details.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write a letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and other related officials, urging them to investigate the situation. First, the local administration must be condemned for its poor excuse of a rehabilitation programme and urged to seriously and appropriately address and rectify all the problems the victims are suffering. Furthermore, please request that appropriate measures be taken to ensure that the Public Distribution System in the state provides sufficient and nutritious food assistance to its beneficiaries. The PDS must also be monitored to ensure it works properly, where by being placed under welfare schemes guarantees that quality food assistance is provided. A sample letter is provided below.

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ____________

RE: INDIA: Government action inadequate in providing rehabilitation to displaced hunger victims in Murshidabad, West Bengal

I was recently updated as to the current situation of hunger in Jalangi, Murshidabad and am deeply concerned that the local administration has not actively taken steps to address it.

I was informed that a rehabilitation programme has been put in place to move displaced villagers from Jalangi to a piece of land that lies in the middle of the Padma River. However, I was shocked to learn that this piece of land was already given to landless tillers in 1974 by the governor of West Bengal under the West Bengal Land Reform Act 1955. Furthermore, it is my understanding that no amenities exist on the island as it lacks water, electricity, sanitation and communication systems. Finally, given the nature of the river erosion, the land may also be susceptible to erosion. Thus, this rehabilitation plan is not sufficient in providing an effective and long-term solution to the problem.

It was also brought to my attention that the Public Distribution System (PDS) is still failing to provide assistance to the hunger victims in Jalangi, who are severely malnourished due to losing their land and livelihoods. Over 500 villagers, whose names had been placed in ration shops in September 2005, have still not received any food assistance. The lists were also distributed to the District Magistrate Office and Block Development Office and all the victims mentioned were found to be genuinely suffering from starvation and malnutrition. However, ration shop dealers have not been distributing food on claims that they have not received a government order to do so. When questioned on the current status of food assistance to the victims, Mr. Gulam Ali Ansari, Additional District Magistrate (General) of Murshidabad responded that he had to enquire further about the matter.

I am also extremely distressed to learn that while the government authorities have been inert, another villager, Ummat Ali Shah, is reported to have died of starvation on October 29, 2005. Mr Shah, whose name was also listed under the PDS, did not receive any food rations before he died.
       
Given the severity of hunger and the rapid erosion of land, the government must take immediate and appropriate steps to address the situation. The problems in Jalangi are many, and a genuine rehabilitation programme that aims to help rebuild the victims' lives must include regular and sufficient food assistance, permanent land with amenities for the villagers to reside and farm on, access to healthcare and education facilities, as well as a plan to stop the river erosion and reduce the amount of land being lost each year. If the government continues to fail in this respect, the starvation deaths will increase rapidly.

I strongly urge you to investigate this situation immediately and take necessary action to address the problems in Jalangi. Please ensure that the Public Distribution System in the state provides sufficient and nutritious food assistance to its beneficiaries. Please also monitor the PDS to ensure it works properly, where by being placed under welfare schemes guarantees that quality food assistance is provided. Finally, the proposed plan by the district administration in no way provides rehabilitation and I urge you to seriously and appropriately address and rectify the problems the victims are suffering.

Sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Manjunath Prasad
District Magistrate - Murshidabad
Murshidabad
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 34 8225 1650
Fax: +91 34 8225 0145

2. Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister/ Minister of Home Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2221 5555 (Office), 2334 4700/ 2358 1166 (Home)
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480/ 2214 1341
E-mail: cm@wb.gov.in

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Mr. Biswanath Choudhury
Minister of Social Welfare Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2214 3220 Ext. 4782
Fax: +91 33 2214 5452
E-mail: micjail@wb.gov.in

2. Mr. Amit Kiran Deb
Chief Secretary
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2214 5858
Fax: +91 33 2214 4328
E-mail: chiefsec@wb.gov.in

3. Mr.Narendranath Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings
Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2252 1388/ 6434  
Fax: +91 33 22522628  
E-mail: micfoodsupplies@wb.gov.in

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

5. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, OHCHR, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
SWITZERLAND
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: cvillan-duran.hchr@unog.ch or sect.hchr@unog.ch (ATTENTION: SR RIGHT FOOD)

6. Mr. Gian Pietro Bordignon
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi - 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 2615 0001
Fax: +91 11 2615 0019
E-mail: WFP.NewDelhi@wfp.org

7. 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: Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or Bkk.unescap@un.org

8. Dr. N.C. Saxena and Mr. S.R. Sankaran
Commissioners
Supreme Court of India
SAMYA, R-38A, 2nd floor
South Extention - part 2
New Delhi - 49
INDIA
Fax: +91-11-5164 2147
Email: commissioners@vsnl.net

Thank you.

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

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