It was a rare occasion for the people of Assam and Meghalaya to receive a team of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India for disposing various pending human rights abusing cases. An NHRC delegation, led by its chairman Justice (Retd) K G Balakrishnan, arrived in Assam during the last week of May for two camp sittings in Guwahati and Shillong.
Incidentally it was the first time that the NHRC sent a delegation to the region for disposing nearly 65 pending cases by hearing the senior government officers, sensitize them about the importance of human rights issues and compliance of NHRC recommendations by them. The NHRC delegation, comprising Justice GP Mathur, Justice PC Sharma, Justice BC Patel, Justice Satyabrata Pal besides Justice Balakrishnan with other senior and responsible officers, heard 50 pending cases of rights violations in Assam at a two-day camp sitting starting on May 28. Then a day-long camp sitting was organised on May 30 in the Meghalaya capital.
Listening to parties concerned and also the State authorities, the NHRC recommended various measures to Assam government in respect of many human rights violation cases and it has asked the authority to pay nearly Rupees 3.5 million (35 lakh) as monetary compensation to the victim families. The issue of witch-hunting in Assam also came for deposition, where the commission asked the State authorities to create awareness among people and strive for fast investigation and speedy trial in incidents of witch hunting.
Assam witnessed the victimisation of nearly 88 women and 40 men in the span of last five years. The authorities admitted that this practice is prevalent in backward and distantly located places. The State Legislative Assembly also listened to the horror of suspected witch hunting cases, when the minister Rockybul Hussain revealed that not less than 80 families were victimised in Assam during January 2006 to February 2011 due to the superstition.
The number of incidents went up in 2011 with the report of killing at lest 29 people in various parts of Assam. In the matter relating to starvation deaths that took place in Bhuvan valley tea estate of Cachar district in Barak valley, the commission ordered the government to pay Rupees 200 thousand (two lakh) each to two tea garden workers and Rupees 100 thousand (one lakh) each to about 13 dependents of the workers who died due to starvation. Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), an active rights body of south Assam, alleged that at least 15 people had died in the tea garden during last eight months due to starvation, malnutrition and lack of proper health care facility.
Barak Human Rights Protection Committee alleged that the rights of tea plantation workers to minimum wage, housing and basic medical facilities in accordance with the Plantation Labour Act 1951 were not honoured by the Kolkata-based management of Bhuvan valley tea estate. Basic medical care and food distribution for the poor have not reached those workers who lost their livelihoods and that it is one of the causes for the deaths. Even Public Distribution System (PDS) and National Rural Health Mission have not reached them and employment under MG-NREGS has been just too little, added the BHRPC.
Following the allegation of BHRPC, the commission looked into the matter and after deposition it directed the State government to inquire whether the Tea Association of India was distributing the food grains properly among the workers. The commission was apprehensive about tea association’s role in distributing the food items from the government to the tea labourers through PDS. In the case relating to rehabilitation of children rendered orphan or destitute in communal riots in upper Assam, the commission asked the State government to identify the child victims without any further delay and give financial assistance to them and sent compliance report along with proof of payment within eight weeks.
The commission observed that the negligence of officer led to orphaned children not getting timely assistance despite the fact so many years have past since the riots. Similarly in the cases relating to force prostitution of three women in Cachar district, the commission asked the State government to pay Rupees one lakh each to the victims. The government was also asked to inquire whether there was any organised activity going on in Assam to bring young girls to Cachar and Silchar from Meghalaya and forced them into prostitution.
The authorities were asked to take action against the guilty at the earliest. On the allegations of eviction of 6000 encroachers, the commission was informed by the State Authorities that the hutments were dismantled but not set on fire as alleged. The commission asked the authorities to expedite their rehabilitation. Listening to the issue of encounter and in custody death cases in Assam, the commission ordered the police to scrupulously adhere to NHRC guidelines and submit all the reports to the commission timely for early disposal of such cases.
The NHRC delegation also met the State government administrative head, State police chief and other senior officers and discussed various sensitive issue including crime against women, encounter and custodial death, bonded labour, prisoner reforms, mental health and observance of NHRC guidelines on various incidents Completing the day-long camp sitting in Shillong, the commission expressed serious concern over child labour in coal mines of Meghalaya and asked the State government to stop child labour in all its forms. The commission also asked the State authorities to conduct a survey of mines to find out the number of child labourers employed there and take measures for their schooling and rehabilitation.
“The State authorities admitted that 220 child workers were identified in Jaintia hills of the State. They were asked to give monetary compensation to the child labourers as per the provisions of bonded labour Act. The commission gave them eight weeks time to submit an action taken report. With reference to allegation of illegal and rampant mining in the State, the commission said that the State government should exercise its jurisdiction of authority in controlling it.
The state should study the issue of mining from the point of view of bonded labour, environmental and health hazards and trafficking and sexual exploitation of women,” informed JK Srivastav of NHRC. With reference to incidents of sexual exploitation of minor girls and abandoning of newly born children and dead foetus, the commission said that the State government needs to look into this issue from social aspect apart from a criminal offence. It should spread awareness in society about ills of this problem, the commission opined.