The Union Government of India has decided to stop supply of subsidised foodgrains for tea garden workers through FCI.*
This is a very very unfortunate development. It may cause mass starvation deaths of tea workers in Assam. Particularly in those tea estates which are closed now.
Even in the gardens which are producing, labourers are paid as less as Rs 75/- per day. It is barely possible to maintain physical existence of a family of 4/5 persons on this money. They get some help from ICDS, MGNREGA and PDS rations. If MGNREGA is reduced and ration is stopped there is nothing to stop mass starvation deaths, I am afraid.
In a span of a few months in 2012/13 we documented as many as 32 hunger deaths in a single tea estate in South Assam. The estate was closed. After our intervention it was opened. A compensation to the tune of Rs 1700000/- was provided to the next of kins of some of the deceased workers. Some other ameliorative actions were also taken. It was a temporary relief in practical sense. Technically the government closed the chapter.
During documentation we came to know that due to the closure of the work provisions of government subsidised rations were also stopped. The foodgrains were provided to the owner of the tea gardens under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and who in turn distributed it to the workers who were the intended beneficiaries.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) heard and disposed of our complaint about these hunger deaths in its camp sitting in Guwahati last year. In the second day of the camp, the commission had a sitting with the local human rights defenders where I raised the issue and among other things I specifically stressed that the ration should be directly given to the labourers through their panchayats and not through the owners. The commission apparently was convinced and directed the officials present (a deputy home secretary and others) orally to consider my proposal. Though the state government kept giving us assurances but no change in the practice was made.
And now the Modi government decided to stop altogether the supply of rations to the labourers.
I am really very concerned about the tea labourers of Assam.
* As reported by the Assam Tribune accessed at http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=dec0414/at053