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UPDATE (India): River erosion continues to swallow lives and livelihoods in Jalangi, MurshidabadUPDATE (India): River erosion continues to swallow lives and livelihoods in Jalangi, Murshidabad

In late January, a mass petition was signed by 95 people living in Dayarampur village who had protested against the lack of government action to halt the erosion of the Padma River. The petition suggested that the government plan to build a 1.5 kilometre embankment, from Dayarampur to Taltali villages, will yield no beneficial result in halting the erosion as such a small embankment will be washed away during the coming monsoon season. Currently, the river has eroded 18 kilometres of river bank, encroaching 10 kilometres into the village of Dayarampur. The government plan also fails to consider the other villages affected by the erosion, such as Sitanagar, Undayanagar, Suryanagar, and others.

UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Update on Hunger Alert

3 February 2006

[Re: HU-09-2005: UPDATE (India): Government action inadequate in providing rehabilitation to displaced hunger victims and continued starvation death in Murshidabad, West Bengal; 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-02-2006: UPDATE (India): River erosion continues to swallow lives and livelihoods in Jalangi, Murshidabad

INDIA: Starvation and malnutrition; government neglect
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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 government plan to build a 1.5 kilometre barricade along the river is severely inadequate, and fails to provide any permanent solutions to the continuing erosion of the Padma River and the livelihoods of the villagers.

Additionally, the AHRC was also informed that another starvation death has occurred. In this case, the death occurred within the indigenous population of Jalangi, to whom Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards have not been distributed by the government. This illustrates a failure of the Public Distribution System (PDS) to extend government welfare schemes like Annapurna (senior citizen welfare scheme) and Antyodaya to indigenous people, who are particularly vulnerable to starvation as they do not own cultivated land.

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 (PDS). Please also call on the local authorities to propose feasible preventative measures to halt the further effects of the river erosion and to provide adequate measures to provide sufficient and nutritious food assistance to all those suffering in Jalangi.

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

Location: Pakurdiar village, Jalangi, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India.
Victim: Ms. Bismi Mal
Date of last reported death: January 24, 2006 (deaths ongoing)

In late January, a mass petition was signed by 95 people living in Dayarampur village who had protested against the lack of government action to halt the erosion of the Padma River. The petition suggested that the government plan to build a 1.5 kilometre embankment, from Dayarampur to Taltali villages, will yield no beneficial result in halting the erosion as such a small embankment will be washed away during the coming monsoon season. Currently, the river has eroded 18 kilometres of river bank, encroaching 10 kilometres into the village of Dayarampur. The government plan also fails to consider the other villages affected by the erosion, such as Sitanagar, Undayanagar, Suryanagar, and others.

 

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, despite all being declared eligible to receive BPL ration cards.

Tragically, the inaction of the government and blatant discrimination towards indigenous villagers has resulted in another starvation death. Ms. Bismi Mal, an elderly indigenous woman aged about 60 years from Pakurdiar village, died on January 24, 2006 due to starvation. There are approximately thirteen indigenous families in the said village under the leadership of the Faridpur village council. Not a single indigenous family received B.P.L. cards. Nor have the indigenous families received the benefit of government welfare schemes such as Annapurna and Antyodaya. These families also do not own cultivated land, and thus are without any source of food.

Joyram Mal, husband of Bisni Mal, is also suffering from malnutrition and his physical condition is very critical. According to Joyram Mal, their son left the family home 11 days before the death of Bismi in search of work. Before leaving home, he kept some grain for his parents, but grain finished resulting in Bismi being without food for 3 days prior to succumbing to death by starvation. ?lt;/font>

Mr. Nakul Chandra Mahato, Block Development Officer, Jalangi has admitted the reason of death of the said victim is the lack of food.

Ms. Khodezan Bewa, elected village council member (Congress party) alleged that indigenous families in Pakurdiar did not even have any winter clothes: "They are unable to purchase any food. I demanded so many times to enlist those families into the BPL scheme but have failed every time. If the administration is not taking any steps, then in the future more starvation death news will come."?lt;/font>

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Murshidabad is among the 200 districts in India which have been identified for implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005. The Act provides Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes that offer a maximum of 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. The scheme requires for payment of minimum wages, no less than 6 rupees per day, for said work and for daily transport and living allowances equivalent to 10 per cent of the wage rate if work is assigned more than 5km from the person’s residence. Work must not be assigned outside the Block, in this case Jalangi, of the applicant.

Therefore, under his scheme the son of Bismi and Joyram Mal should have been provided with paid manual labour for up to 100 days and expenses enabling him to travel between his household and his assigned work everyday. This would have enabled him to provide for himself and his elderly parents.
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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, housing and land needs. Please see HU-07-2005 for details.

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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.


SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Re: INDIA: River erosion continues to swallow lives and livelihoods in Jalangi, Murshidabad

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 have been informed that the government plan to build a barricade along the Padma River, of 1.5 kilometres in length, from Dayarampur to Taltali, is severely inadequate, and fails to provide any permanent solutions to the continuing erosion of the river and the livelihoods of the villagers. 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 still not been receiving food assistance, despite all being declared eligible to receive BPL ration cards.

I am also extremely distressed to learn that the government authorities have continued to be inert about the persistent hunger crisis in the Jalangi Block. This, along with the failure of the government to provide indigenous communities with equal access to BPL ration cards and associated welfare schemes, has resulted in the death of another villager. Ms. Bismi Mal of Pakurdiar Village died on January 24, 2006 and was a member of one of 13 indigenous families who were not granted access to BPL ration cards or a welfare schemes. As a result, she was not granted any food rations and hadn’t eaten for days before she died. Murshidabad is one of the districts identified for the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, yet Bismi Mal’s son was not assigned work under the scheme. This resulted in his absence from the family home for 11 days prior to his mother’s death and no money to provide for his parent’s survival.

Given the severity of hunger and the rapid erosion of land, the government must take immediate, appropriate and equitable 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, implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 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 and the situation in the district may deteriorate quickly.

I strongly urge you to intervene in 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 all its beneficiaries. Please also ensure that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is implemented to provide villagers with a means to provide for themselves and their families. Finally, the proposed plan by the district administration in no way provides preventative action against the erosion of the river and I urge you to seriously and appropriately address and rectify the problems the victims are suffering.

Sincerely,


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PLEASE SEND A LETTER TO:

Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister/ Minister of Home Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480/ 2214 1341

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

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

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

3. Mr. Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings
Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA

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: sect.hchr@unog.ch ?lt;br />
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

Thank you.

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

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