Eliminate Manual Scavenging But Not Scavengers
S.O.S - e - Clarion Of Dalit - Weekly Newspaper On Web
Working For The Rights & Survival Of The Oppressed
Editor: NAGARAJ.M.R… VOL.4 issue. 13…… 31/03/2010
Editorial : ELIMINATE MANUAL SCAVENGING BUT NOT SCAVENGERS - an appeal to honourable supreme court of India
In India, since independence certain affirmative actions by the government like job reservations , reservations in educational institutions , loan facilities , etc are extended to the backward class , oppressed people. However , the persons who have economically, socially become stronger on the basis of these government affirmative actions are not letting their own brethren – scavenging community to utilize the same. The politicians are just making noises about sub caste reservation for scheduled castes & tribes , but doing nothing. As a result , today we find some sub-castes & tribes of SC / ST better off than their previous generation, some other sub-castes & tribes of SC / ST are reeling under utter poverty , social ostracism , etc. A human being can be in a civilized form , healthy - if we have scavengers to clean our toilets , drainages , if we have barbers to cut our hairs. The very same people who keep us healthy & civilized are not treated in a civilized manner by the society , why ? most of the town municiapalities , city corporations are employing scavengers on daily wages without any statuotary benefits & are paid less than the statuotary minimum wages. every towns & cities in India are bursting with population growth , however the number of scavengers has not been increased in proportion to the growth of population , In most of the cases the existing scavengers are overburdened with the work load. , Most of them are suffering from occupational health hazards , are dying at young ages leaving their families in the lurch. Hereby, we appeal to honourable supreme court of India to treat this as a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION & to order government of India , all state governments , statuotary bodies 1. to regularize the jobs of all scavengers , to provide all statuotary benefits like ESI,PF, etc. 2. to take all necessary steps to eradicate manual scavenging – carrying human excreta on heads. 3. to take all necessary steps to protect their health & occupational safety. Bottomline : all the citizens , the society must learn to respect their brethren who keeps them healthy , tidy & civilized. JAI HIND.VANDE MATARAM.
Status Of Manual Scavengers In Gorakhpur, Uttar-Pradesh
The Condition of Scavenger community in India is a matter of grave concern for all the right thinking persons world over. It is regrettably noted that the official attitude of the government has not changed towards these communities. The surroundings of the community compel them think in a ghettoized fashion which is considered as if the community does not want to change. In an environment where parents do not know where would the second day meal be achieved, it would be ridiculous to think that the community would be able to rise at its own. Is it not the duty of all of us who believe in human rights, dignity and human values to come forward and help the community to delink from its traditional occupation? We are shocked to say the least that despite the people's will to get out of the profession, nothing much is visual from the government's attitude for whom rehabilitation means nothing except putting people into the municipality cleaning the sewage system with out any proper hand gear. The overall atmosphere around their locality is never congenial to develop a healthy and vibrant society. The majority of those who work in the scavenging profession particularly carrying night soil over-head are women. Over the years, when men got jobs in municipalities, the numbers of women who are involved in manual scavenging remain unchanged and a matter of grave concern. A survey was conducted by Jan Kalyan Sansthan, Chauri Chaura, partner organization of Social Development Foundation, Delhi under the guidance of Shri Ram Bhuvan. Mrs M Sultana of Sainik Mahila Prakshishan Sansthan, Gorakhpur provided local support to reach the community. We had found out details of nearly 117 scavenger families in Basantpur, Turkmanpur, Laldiggi, Muftipur, Bhediyagarh areas of Gorakhpur town. Out of this, our team was able to get full details of the conditions of the community in Basantpur and Turkmanpur covering around 58 families. The total number of people in these families is 369, which include children and aged people as well. The data reveal some disturbing trend and need to be addressed at the earliest. Do people really know about the nature of isolation the community living along with us. Scavenger community has all along been living in the urban areas serving the middle classes, upper elites, feudal lords, Hindus and Muslims every one alike, yet none of them ever bothered whether they have cared and bothered about those who clean their shit, enter deep into the sewage pit to continue the sewage line. In the coming days, we are going to cover a large part of Uttar-Pradesh and bring reports on this aspect. Housing and other conditions: The social ostracisation of the scavenger community remains complete and virtually no efforts have been made to eradicate the practice of scavenging. But is it possible to without addressing the basic issues of their livelihood. Even when the community was involved in one of the most atrocious job the world could ever have, just 5% of them lived in the government houses. 12% of them are informally living in occupied land but 83% of them were living in depressingly miserable conditions and half completed huts on the government land. The basic amenities in this area remain a matter of shame for every one of us who claim to be civilized. Those clean shits of other people remain toilet less and have no place to even defecate. What could be a great paradox than the fact that 88% of the families do not have basic toilet facilities? 10% have personal toilets. 2% of them have toilets, which they themselves feel are not worthy to use. One can assume how difficult it would be for those 10% who claim to have toilets. There is virtually no arrangement of electricity in the specific areas where the community live. Just 24% of the families use light and that too with the illegal connection termed as Katiya. 76% of the families still live in uncertain darkness. If the situation persists like this how can the children grow? To add their woes 71% of the people get water from the communal taps. Only 26% of the people have personal water taps and 3% do not even access to water. The atmosphere is filthy to be described here as pigs roam around in dirt and children 'shit' in open. In such a sickening environment, how can one expect the children would get education for life? Education: Total number of men women was 29% each while 42% of them are children, which falls under (0-15) years of age. In case of education and its gender wise break up 27% of the children were literate while 31% female and 42% males were literate. 76% of the total community people are illiterate. This has resulted in virtual isolation of community from the rest of the society and in continuous grip of superstition and backwardness. The children continue to suffer as parents found little time to spend with them and their caste and geographical isolation let to further marginalisation in the schools. Teachers would not be interested to roll them in and all them sit with other students. Though, these things may not be visible when a team visit from outside as teachers, students, staff every one has become alert about punitive action. Even the students know this factor and avoid painting the real picture. The fact of the matter is even when publicly untouchability has been eliminated yet caste system is very much prevalent and no body would deny it. The other fact is that every body knows about Dom, Mehtar, Bhangis and Helas and such terms, denigrating they may look for a civilized society yet continue in practice. Children, inherit, these terms from their parents and in turn these communities face racial prejudices from every one. It is therefore, not ironical that names of their localities seal their fate as areas are always mentioned with the community names hence names like Harijan Bustee or Domkhana. They remind us how crude our system was vis-à-vis the untouchables. The very foundation of the discrimination in India is caste system, which denigrate Dalits and hurt the very dignity and pride of an individual, which are essentials for his growth and development. The governance has not really got itself rid of the caste system though it may claim to have demolished the untouchability at least on the papers. Therefore, it is essential for the government to make its plan in a comprehensive way and not respond to a situation on purely technical way. Education is basic foundation and still the untouchable children do not get the attention of the state. It would have been better to start community schools for isolated and marginalized community like Scavengers, Mushahars and others. In the primary schools, there is a clear untouchability since the children are not aware of their rights and their parents do not know about the school. In the Lal Diggi Harijan Bustee (domkhana), there was a school where children used to get free education but for the last 10 years it does not function. There was a teacher working here but after her retirement no other teacher has been appointed in place of her. Women and Children: The condition of scavenging community is miserable. Since most of the people from the community are uneducated. Social evils are prevalent in the community. Poverty gives birth to different things including alcoholism, wife beating, gambling. Most of the children cannot go to school. The girl children become part of the profession. 20% of the children below 15 years of age do scavenging work while 10% are involved in it. Following the growing trend of feminization of scavenging, results show a whopping 70% of women involved in most inhuman work. While children below 4 years of age are 36% in the two areas and do not have anything to study. 43% of them do nothing. 15% of the children go to school. 3% of them clean and mop the street and 3% of them are involved in manual scavenging. It is a shocking detail that hurt and put us to shame as even the children are not safe and cannot go to school. Profession: When circumstances remain the same, therefore it is but natural that 42% of the families are still in the sanitation work. Tragically, despite this 44% of the people are still unemployed which is a matter of grave concern. Nearly 9% of the families are still scavenging while 4% have retired. It also reflects that there is virtually no entry of this community in the government sector as well as other labour work. It clearly means that while in the sanitation work of the municipalities there is a one hundred percent reservation for them, there is virtually no effort to delink them from this tradition and rehabilitate them elsewhere. And by merely proclaiming that government has banned toilets will not bring out of the chaos that the social system has inflicted upon them. One is that there is still scavenging and other grave fact is that absentee Safai Karmcharis is growing. That means because of relatively better salaries and contract system, those with connections in the higher ups get the job while the issue of cleaning and going down the drainage and sewage line. How can situation improve if the community is living in complete social ostracisation and isolation? The students do not get a congenial atmosphere to study their books. In the school, the teacher, would obviously, not like to be supportive. Normal reference for delays and late coming is ' these people are like that. They do not want to study'. In-spite of the fact that this is most ill-treated and inhuman work that any human could do, the women continue to do it because of financial crisis. We all know that this does not really fetch them any money. The tragedy is that even the schemes for poor do not reach them. Despite having no land to live and cultivate, 69% of the community people in these areas have no ration card. The rest 31% have APL Ration Card. Health: 95% of the people drink alcohol and a majority of them (60%) drink country liquor. So far we have got information of more than 8 people have died and about 16 are ill. 6 persons have been paralysed and 2 are disabled. 70% of the people do not have balance diet. Most of the children are malnutrition and anemic. There seems to be no Anganwadi workers working with them. The fact is that even the Anganwadi workers have their caste and who would like to visit the dirt and filth unless some one has extremely noble ideas and commitment to do the work. Financial Conditions: All above indicators gives indication of extreme poverty in the community. Despite poverty, male members continue to depend heavily on liquor and social taboos such as dowry has resulted in growing financial crisis in the community. They depend on local individual moneylenders who charge hefty interest rates for every loan he pay to them. Our survey shows that just 26% of the families were able to save some amount of money. But a majority 76% was sinking in heavy debt. The debt is rarely reduced. It always increases and every time the person gets a salary for whatever work, he/she has to repay the debt.
Develop new localities with amenities like sanitation and water for the community.
Start special schools for the children of scavenger community. Provide training programmes like electrician, vehicle repair, driving, beautician, and sewing centers for the youths of the community. Give full scholarship to bright students of the community and provide them training for computer education. Involve the Civil Society Organisations in the development and inclusion of the community in the mainstream. Municipal corporations should be penalized if scavenging is prevalent in the area. Provide better pay package to safai Karmcharis so that they can fetch their children well. At the moment, their conditions really need an emergency response. There are no social benefits for the children of Safai Karmcharis. Most of them are lowly paid and working on contract which means any ailments not only increase their debt as salaries are deducted with out any other medical compensation as any other employee may claim. This has resulted in their further marginalisation. With growing pressure, the entire scavenging work is now feminized with more and more women taking up the profession while their men working with the municipalities. With shrinking jobs in the municipality, the government as well as the municipalities have not been able to provide any social security to the community, it is high time, a special monitoring body is constituted which not only monitor violation of human rights and provide immediate relief to the victims rather then waiting for long official process which is proving to be disastrous. Conclusion : Gorakhpur burnt because of the communal violence. Political leaders played their role. The city witnessed deaths due to brain fever, which reoccur every year and kills young children. This is the district where we have seen starvation deaths. The city is one of the major commercial city of eastern Uttar-Pradesh. It is developing. It has one of the most revered shrine of Guru Gorakhnath, whose head is a Swami forming Hindu Yuva Vahini to protect Hindus from Muslims. Muslims have other work. Nobody has time to think of a community which has kept the city clean at its own peril. Can we expect serious response from the government to consider the case of the scavenger community when they want to get out of it? Let us fight against this inhuman practice of scavenging, which kills human dignity .
Landless Poor To Subsidise The IT Sector !
Anyone who has a hammer in his hand, treats everything as a nail. I have always found this statement not only amusing but immensely thought-provoking. This holds true for any new technology. The hammer in this case being the new technological product. Be it the computers or the mobile telephony. In order to sell the technological products, it is not unusual to see a chorus from the academicians and the industry on the need and relevance these technologies have for the poor and the marginalised. Some months back, Sam Pitroda was at pains to tell us how the Knowledge Commission (that he chairs) is trying to look into the possibility of making the computers an engine of growth in the rural areas. I have repeatedly heard some of the distinguished economists and scientists speaking at conferences and seminars about the turnaround that the computers can make to the life of a farmer. Of course, I am aware that with a hammer in their hand, they are looking for another nail to be nailed. The IT industry is desperately trying to justify its role in rural development, in other words looking for an opportunity to sell the computers in the villages. Considering that India has 600,000 villages, look at the size of the market that the industry, already faced with a downturn, is eyeing. And if they can somehow convince the government to purchase computers (obviously equipped with Window 7 software) for the poor, it will help to keep the industry afloat. This will be a bailout package. With the financial year coming to close on March 31, this is time when business activities are its peak. No wonder, the Union government has sent a letter, dated March 11 2010, to all the State governments and the Union Territory administrations, asking them to lay emphasis on the computerisation of the panchayat offices. Now this is nothing surprising considering that the government had already decided to set up panchayat ghars in the name of Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendra under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) programme. But what is surprising is that Rs 2,400 crore has been allocated for the computerisation programme, which has to be deducted from the MNREGA administration expenditure. Knowing that not more than 4 per cent of the total MNREGA allocation can be used for administrative purposes, the government has very cleverly changed the rules extending it now to 6 per cent. According to Dainik Jagran (March 19, 2010) there is no direct relationship between the rural employment programme and the construction of panchayat offices or the computerisation of these new offices. What is however more shocking is that the money that should have actually gone in for creating additional rural employment opportunities for the poorest of the poor is now being used to bail out the IT industry (and its hardware suppliers). Now, if you are from the IT industry, you don't have to feel agitated. I know you are doing a 'great service' to the poor, and the nation should be in fact grateful to you. In simple words, the poor and marginalised will now be subsidising the multi-billion dollar IT industry. I don't know why the IT industry, which has been enjoying income tax exemptions, and is considering to even provide helicopter services to ferry its employees to avoid traffic snarls in a city like Bangalore, can't be generous with the poor. I am sure the IT industry can on its own install computers in the panchayats (if it feels computers would be helpful) instead of exracting its pound of flesh from the poor landless labourers. Isn't it sad that you pay fabulous salaries to your employees, and you can't even appreciate a few lakh more poor to earn a pitiable Rs 100 a day! Rs 2,400-crore can provide two square meals a day for lakhs of poor landless workers. Come on, have a heart. You can't be that treacherous. The IT sector too has a corporate social responsibility. You don't have to literally move with a hammer in your hand.
INDIA: Confessions and blaming will not save 30,000 children destined to die this year
Mr. Anoop Mishra, Madhya Pradesh state Minister of Public Health and Family Welfare said in the state legislative assembly on 8 March that 30,000 children under the age of five die of malnutrition every year in the state. The shocking admission by the minister about the state government's criminal neglect in addressing the need of the citizens is contrary to its known practice of denial about the pitiable affairs in the state, particularly concerning health and family welfare.
Though the minister's statement could be considered as an icebreaker, for all practical purposes, it can only be viewed as a belated attempt to accept the fact, but to consciously deny responsibility. This is evident from the farcical explanation offered by the minister for the high infant mortality rate in the state. The minister's attempt is to put the blame upon the mothers for their children's poor health and eventual death.
The minister attributed child malnourishment to: 1. early marriage of girls; 2. pregnancy immediately after marriage; 3. newly born children being underweight; 4. want of complete vaccination; 5. mothers not providing breast-feeding to children up to six months; 6. not providing supplementary food to children in time; and 7. infections and poor economic conditions. The minister however did not explain the source of this information and what is the scientific basis for this opinion.
The government's lack of seriousness on the issue is highlighted in the minister's approach in dealing with the situation by merely deciding to open 25 additional nutritional rehabilitation centres adding to the existing 200 centres.
Over the years, government and non-government studies have shown that the infant mortality rate in Madhya Pradesh is much higher than what has been admitted by the government. For instance the central government sponsored National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) has repeatedly held that an estimated 60 percent of the state's children are malnourished. The state administration however has been denying this data over the past several years. The NFHS-3 is conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in association with number of grass-roots level organisations since 1992 on assignment from the Government of India.
In this context it is not surprising that out of the eight causes narrated by the minister that results in child malnutrition and infant deaths, four (1, 2, 5, and 6), places the blame upon the mother. By this exercise the Minister's attempt is to avoid discussions on the root causes of child malnutrition and infant mortality that will invariably place the state administration in the dock.
In addition, the state administration does not have any form of credible data to deal with the problem. Different state entities have inconsistent and mutually contradicting data concerning infant mortality and malnutrition.
For instance according to the Health Department there is no infant deaths reported in Dhar (from April 2005 to September 2008) and Chindwara districts (from April 2006 to September 2008). Whereas the Monthly Progress Report of the Department of Women and Child Development claims that 560 infants died in both these districts between November 2007 and May 2008.
For last four years, Satna, Chhatarpur, Balaghat, Shivpuri, Guna, Rewa, Shahdol and Sidhi districts are reportedly highly affected by food and health insecurity, that has resulted in child malnutrition and mortality. Among them, the child malnutrition and deprivation of right to food in Rewa and Sidhi districts have been reported by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). For further details on these cases please see: HAC-003-2010 for Jhabua district; HAU-007-2009 and HAC-007-2009 for Rewa district; HAC-009-2009 for Sidhi district; and HAC-003-2009 for Khandwa district.
As each case proves, the families of the malnourished children are mostly landless tribal living in rural areas. They do not have regular source of income to feed their children. In addition, the NFHS-3 survey found that of 57.7 percent of women in the state were anaemic. It is shame that the minister however would still hold the undernourished parents responsible for their child's death. It appears that the Minister expects that the landless parents deprived of any stable source of income to provide their children with supplementary food. The commonsense that the malnutrition of the parents hampers their ability to guarantee their children’s food security apparently is lacking with the Minister and the department that he leads spending tax payers' money.
Most of the malnourished children reported by the AHRC were not registered at the Anganwadi Centre (AWC, child care centre). This means that those children are not officially recognised as undernourished by any of the government agencies.
The mothers have not received proper information and lacks knowledge about the specific nutritional needs of their children. This is a legally binding international human rights law obligation upon the government under Article 11 (2) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR) and the Article 24 (2) e. of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). India has ratified both these conventions and hold high prestige as a state that has accepted the Conventions' legal mandate in international forums. Thus far the AWCs have failed to play their role as a bridge between the government and the people concerning child care.
A 2009 report titled "Moribund ICDS" on Madhya Pradesh states that 89 percent of the AWCs surveyed for the report did not possess any medicine kit and were therefore unable to provide medical relief to the children. As a result, the NHFS-3 found that only 31.5 percent of the children from 0 to 71 months in Madhya Pradesh have received health check-up in an AWC and only 37.8 percent of them had received immunisation.
While the government makes an excuse on the lack of resources such as budget or manpower, the proportion of budgetary allocation to health out of the total state expenditure has been decreasing every year since 2000, dropping from 5.1 percent to 3.9 percent in the past year. It is a sad irony that while the country projects itself as to becoming a developed nation within the next few years through dramatic economic growth, its proportion of budgetary allocation for the citizens' health is far less than any developed country.
The case of Sidhi district specifically reflects that the budget for health service accounts for merely 2.4 percent out of total state budget. While the child malnutrition has been increasing for last five years, not a single Public Health Centre has been built in the district during this period. 1,659 out of 4,708 posts of medical officers are left vacant and 1,098 posts of Auxiliary Nursing Mothers are yet to be filled.
Similar anomalies exist in other government programmes. For the Reproductive and Child Health Programme that aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality, the government made a budgetary provision of INR 650 millions (USD 14 millions) between 2005 and 2010. Only INR 379.6 millions (USD 8.2 millions) have been spent from this budget so far. The unspent money had to be thus returned at the project period.
The problems underlying child nutrition are so numerous and complex that the government's response should not limit its scope to any single aspect of the issue. The opening of 25 Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres may provide short-term relief to local undernourished children but will not address the root causes of the problem.
Most of the children whose right of food is violated belong to landless families, who are deprived of any regular source of income. In many cases, parents work as migrant workers and earn extremely low wages insufficient to feed the family. Therefore, the government must take broader measures to introduce land reforms in Madhya Pradesh and promote developmental projects favouring local employment opportunities notably through investment in local agricultural infrastructures. Feudalism, a wealth source for most politicians in the state must end.
Addressing the problem of child malnutrition would therefore require strong coordinated policies between the concerned ministries such as the Health and Family Welfare, the Women and Child Development, the Agriculture and the Rural Development, but it remains a remote possibility.
INDIA – POLITICS OF STARVATION
At least 40 tribals, most of them children, are said to have starved to death over a span of a month in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. It is a situation of the cruelest irony for even as the death toll from starvation mounts and hundreds waste away without food to eat, India's granaries overflow. It was a probe by the People's Union for Civil Liberties that uncovered the horrifying details of the starvation deaths in the Baran district of Rajasthan. Cultivation has ceased here for the area is reeling under its fifth successive year of acute drought. The local tribals have been reduced to dire poverty. Desperately short of food and driven by hunger, the tribals have turned to eating a wild grass called sama. This grass is hard for humans to digest. As a result, the tribals, especially children, have developed severe digestive ailments, resulting in death. The starvation deaths in Rajasthan are a replay of a similar tragic story that unfolded in poverty-stricken Kashipur in the eastern state of Orissa last year. There, tribals driven by poverty and unable to buy even the subsidized rice provided through government ration shops were forced to eat fungus-ridden mango kernel. As the starvation deaths in Kashipur hit the news, the Orissa government claimed that those who died were victims not of starvation but of their tradition of consuming mango kernel and boiled grass even while grain is available. The truth was that the tribals were forced to eat the poisonous kernel for want of an affordable choice. In Rajasthan, the government is now claiming that the tribals prefer eating wild grass and that the deaths were caused by poor hygiene and disease. Government officials are busy defining starvation to prove that these were not starvation deaths. A starvation death is when there is no food material in the stomach, and government officials shamefully point out that the victims had eaten grass. Whatever the spin, it is hard to deny that the deaths were hunger-related. The starvation deaths in Kashipur and Baran are just the tip of the iceberg. Hunger is widespread in India. It is said that at least 50 million Indians are on the brink of starvation and over 200 million Indians are underfed. This, when a 60-million-ton surplus of foodgrains is rotting in various government warehouses in the country. That so many are hungry despite overflowing granaries is a damning indictment of the government's public distribution system (PDS). The PDS is a network of about 460,000 ration shops across the country through which grains, sugar, cooking oil and so on are sold at subsidized rates. However, most of India's poor, such as those who starved to death in Orissa and Rajasthan, cannot afford to buy the grains even at these subsidized rates. Many of them do not possess the Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards that entitle them to purchase at subsidized rates in ration shops. In several cases, the desperately poor have mortgaged their BPL cards to moneylenders or local traders. Besides, the process of identifying the poor is severely flawed. An article in Outlook magazine points out that in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, situated in Mumbai, just 151 families are identified as BPL. Millions of poor across the country are categorized in government records as Above Poverty Line (APL). Food policy experts say that the pricing of foodgrains for APL and BPL categories is far too high. They have pointed out that the price of grain is sometimes cheaper in mandis (local markets). Consequently, the PDS grains have few takers and state governments have been unwilling to lift the grains they are allocated. This means that foodgrains in government warehouses remain unutilized. Because of poor quality and inadequate storage facilities, millions of tons of foodgrains are eaten up by rats or simply rot. According to Planning Commission statistics, a third of the surplus food stocks (31 percent of the rice, 36 percent of the wheat and 23 percent of the sugar) in the government warehouses that is meant for the PDS is siphoned away by a nexus of politicians, officials and traders into the black market. One study indicates that 64 percent of rice stocks in Bihar and Assam, and 44 percent and 100 percent of wheat stocks in Bihar and Nagaland respectively "disappear" from the PDS. There are several government relief schemes for the rural poor. Reporting from Baran, Bhavdeep Kang writes in Outlook, "Given the large number of central and state food aid schemes, it is hard to understand why the Sahariyas [the tribe that has been worst hit by hunger and starvation in Rajasthan] are in the plight they're in today. There are special provisions for the old, infirm, pregnant and lactating mothers, school-going children and infants. There are food-for-work programs run by the village panchayat [village-level government] to provide employment. Even the World Bank sponsors a poverty alleviation scheme in the district. On paper, no one needs to go hungry. Ground reality is starkly different." Many of the central and state government aid programs are not being implemented, Kang points out, adding that no effort is made to monitor their implementation. While the failure of the PDS has often been attributed to corruption and poor implementation, P Sainath, author of the book Everybody loves a good drought writes that the PDS has "wilted under policies aimed at dismantling it. Part of the 'doing away with subsides' theme." He calls for examining the issue of hunger-related deaths against a larger canvas of the string of anti-poor steps taken by the government post 1990. Sainath argues that while the government is cutting down on subsidies to the poor in the country and denying grains to them at prices they can afford, it is subsidizing the export of wheat by over 50 percent. "The export price of wheat is even less than the BPL rate of that item in many states. India is exporting lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of tons of rice at Rs 5.65 a kg. In Andhra, a government sells rice to people in drought-hit regions at Rs 6.40 a kg," he points out. It is not without significance that hunger-related deaths and poverty-related suicides in rural India have mounted dramatically since 1990, when the Indian economy started liberalizing. Equally telling is the fact that it is in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra - the states where World Bank policies have been implemented most diligently - that the number of poverty-related suicides have mounted most dramatically. The starvation deaths at Kashipur prompted the Indian Supreme Court to direct the government to "devise a scheme where no person goes hungry when the granaries are full and lots are being wasted due to non-availability of storage space". The court had asked the government to open the public distribution shops in the areas worst hit by hunger in order to make food available to the poor and hungry. A year on, the starvation deaths in Rajasthan indicate that the government has done little to address the problem - and now the issue has taken on political overtones. Opposition leader said that the central government had not done enough for the state.
Millions Go To Bed Hungry As Millions Of Tonnes Of Wheat Rot In Open In Punjab
As you drive through Punjab, stored wheat lying in the open is a usual sight. For at least three decades now, you have been seeing wheat stacked in the open facing the vagaries of the inclement weather. You have got used to it. I was therefore pretty surprised when CNN-IBN and NDTV decided to take on the issue prominently in their prime time bulletins. I remember, two decades back, when I was the Agriculture Correspondent of the Indian Express, and based in Chandigarh, stored grain in the open was quite a frequent picture on the front page. My photographer colleague Swadesh Talwar and I had travelled quite extensively, and we did highlight the sad plight of rotting foodgrains time and again. I must acknowledge that our efforts did not succed in making the official machinery, deep in slumber, wake up and do something meaningful. Ninety per cent of the procured grains still lies in the open. In other words, the criminal neglect of foodgrain continues. What makes it a heinous crime is that those who are at the helm of affairs do not realise that these rotting stocks could have fed several million hungry. Even in Punjab, the frontline agricultural State in India, millions are faced with hidden hunger if not starvation. Punjab, the food bowl of India, fares much below Sudan in the IFPRI Hunger Index. For three decades now, the government has failed to act. I don't know what it means when Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar says that he will hold an enquiry. Ever since I had been on the foodgrain chase, I have heard this promise time and again. For a sound-byte hungry journalism, these statements come in handy while reporting, but after the next story takes over, the bytes are all but forgotten. I hope CNN-IBN and NDTV do not let the issue die down once again. Look at the startling figures reported by NDTV the other day: Punjab's rotting food mountain 2007-2010 -- 7.2 million metric tonne wheat grain stored -- 6.5 million metric tonnes wheat grain lying in the open -- Rs. 500 crore (Rs 5 billion) to Rs. 800 crore (Rs 8 billion) worth wheat grain rotting While the Ministry for Food and Agricultural is trying to pass on the blame to the Punjab government, the fact remains that the food bowl provides roughly 50 per cent of the country's surplus wheat. Punjab has all these years kept the country in a comfortable position when it comes to food security. In fact, Punjab is the single most important factor in turning the country 'self-sufficient' in foodgrains. The nation therefore has to pay back, and it becomes the duty of the country to ensure that not even a single grain of what is produced in Punjab goes waste. The problem compounds when the stocked foodgrains are not lifted in time. While Punjab is saddled with wheat stacked for over two years, the new harvest is around the corner. The bigger problem for Punjab therefore is where to find additional space for the bountiful harvest that is expected to flow in. Much of the stocks have already become unfit for human consumption. This reminds me of a story that the noted economist and a former vice-chancellor Dr S S Johl had once shared with me. It was in this connection, that he narrated a story of a farmer who grew papaya in his backyard. Every day, he would pluck one ripened fruit and eat it. One day, he had to go out to his in-laws and he knew that he would not be able to return before the next two days. So he plucked 3 unripened papayas from the plants and kept them in the kitchen. When he came back, the three fruits had ripened. But the one that was meant to be eaten the first day, had almost rotted. To ensure that he does not waste the fruit, he ate the over-ripened fruit (almost nearing rotting) the first day. The next day, the other fruit also became over-ripened, and he consumed it. The third day too he was left with an almost rotten fruit, which he ate. The moral of the story is that unless the Punjab government (or the Food Corporation of India) disposes-off as cattle feed the sub-standard wheat that is stocked, it will end up feeding the population with rotten wheat year after year. It is all a question of setting your priorities right. If successive Prime Ministers had realised the importance of saving every grain I am sure by now India would have put in place a modern network of grain silos throughout the country. If the country can invest in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) at a pace that defies the bureaucratic obstacles that are normally thrown in, and also look at the amazing speed at which the national highways are being constructed, I see no reason why foodgrain storage cannot receive the same priority, if not the topmost. While I think it is the nation's responsibility to safely store what Punjab produces, but still I don't think Punjab government should be allowed to go scott free. If Punjab government can lay out and approve blueprints for setting up (or modernisting) 40-odd new townships, there is no reason why Punjab government couldn't have focused on storing its own harvested crops. Both the Centre and the Punjab government therefore are at fault. It takes two to Tango.
Coca-Cola Liable For $ 48 Million For Damages In Plachimada, Kerala
New Delhi (March 22, 2010): In a major development, a High Power Committee established by the state government of Kerala in India has recommended today that Coca-Cola be held liable for Indian Rupees 216 crore (US$ 48 million) for damages caused as a result of the company’s bottling operations in Plachimada.
The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada has remained shut down since March 2004 as a result of the community-led campaign in Plachimada challenging Coca-Cola’s abuse of water resources.
The report and recommendations were welcomed by activists who have challenged Coca-Cola’s operations in Plachimada. Demanding compensation from the Coca-Cola for the damages it has caused has been a central demand of the campaign from its inception.
“We welcome the Committee’s recommendations and now the state government must find the political will to implement the recommendations,” said R. Ajayan of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, a statewide organization that has been instrumental in moving the compensation process forward.
The Adivasi Samrakshana Sangham and the Plachimada Solidarity Committee had submitted detailed proposals to the high level committee on the issue of compensation and the course forward.
“The Committee thus has compelling evidence to conclude that the HCBPL has caused serious depletion of the water resources of Plachimada, and has severely contaminated the water and soil,” said the report. HCBPL is the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a subsidiary of Atlanta based Coca-Cola Company.
“The Committee has come to the conclusion that the Company is responsible for these damages and it is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and the pollution caused to the water resources,” added the report.
The report made it clear that the numbers used in arriving at the $48 million compensation were estimates and “indicative in nature”, and “should not be treated as the outer limit of compensation.”
Importantly, the report clarified that the compensation suggested did not include damages as a result of water depletion caused by Coca-Cola, and such damages must be assessed.
The report also agreed that Coca-Cola should be held criminally liable for its reckless actions in Plachimada – a key demand of the campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable. “The compensation is not to be viewed as a quid pro quo for not initiating criminal charges,” the report stated.
The Committee has also recommended that the government create a “dedicated adjudicating agency”, such as a Claims Tribunal, to move the process of compensation forward. Alternatively, the report suggested approaching the central government to set up an institutional mechanism to process the compensation claims under the Environment Protection Act.
Some activists have questioned the compensatory figure suggested by the Committee as being too low.
“A transparent and institutionalized process can revisit the recommended compensation numbers to make sure that Coca-Cola pays for all the damages it has caused,” said R. Ajayan.
Validating the long term campaign against Coca-Cola, the High Power Committee confirmed that the Coca-Cola company had violated a number of laws in its reckless operations, including: Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; The Environment (Protection) Act ,1986; The Factories Act, 1948; Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989; The SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989; Indian Penal Code; Land Utilization Order, 1967; The Kerala Ground Water (Control & Regulation) Act, 2002; Indian Easement Act, 1882.
Ironically, the report confirming Coca-Cola’s mismanagement of water resources and holding the company liable for $48 million in damages comes on World Water Day.
“We have attended every Coca-Cola shareholders meeting in the US since 2004 to remind Coca-Cola shareholders that the company management was being derelict in its duties by not disclosing the real financial liabilities the company was incurring in India,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization.
“Coca-Cola shareholders need to pay attention because the company continues to have an atrocious record in India and communities and even governments are not just going to sit back and take Coca-Cola’s abuses. This should serve as a wake up call,” he continued, referring to other community-led campaigns in India, most notably in Mehdiganj and Kala Dera, where the company has destroyed water resources through over extraction of water and pollution.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE HIGH POWER COMMITTEE ON THE EXTENT OF DAMAGES CAUSED BY THE COCA COLA PLANT AT PLACHIMADA, PALAKKAD DISTRICT Though Palakkad district in Kerala, where the Coca Cola plant is situated is considered as the ‘rice bowl of Kerala’, a part of the district falling in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats is drought prone. Plachimada, where the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Private Limited (HCBPL) factory was set up had been classified ‘arable’. The villagers are predominantly landless agricultural labourers with almost 80 percent of the population depending on agriculture. It is natural that an industrial plant with heavy consumption of water set up in a socially and economically backward and drought prone area would disrupt the ecological balance and adversely affect the life and livelihood of the people. The Coca Cola factory situated in an area of around 34 acres of land has been drawing water from 6 bore wells and 2 open wells. There are varying estimates of factory’s demand for water. According to the 2002 report of Dr. R.N. Athavale, a consultant for Coca Cola , the factory would require at full capacity 6.35 lakh litres per day. The interim report says that the Plant would use roughly 5 lakh litres per day. The waste water released was to the tune of 1.5 to 3 lakh litres per day. The extraction of over 5 lakh litres of water daily has upset the natural balance and adversely affected availability of water. Bore wells and shallow open wells dried up. The quality of water deteriorated with reported increase in salinity and hardness of ground water. The toxic chemicals in the waste water have contaminated the ground water making it unsuitable for irrigation. The Company had obtained a license from Perumatty Grama Panchayat for installing 2600 HP electrical motor for running the Coca Cola bottling plant. However, no license has been obtained from the Panchayat for installing motor for drawing water, though the Company was extracting water from the bore wells and open wells without any license obtained from the Panchayat. The committee has found that the operation of the factory has caused excessive depletion of the groundwater resource. We have also found that it has caused the pollution of the ground water and it will take years to mitigate the pollution Besides the problems created by drawal of huge quantity of water, the solid waste (ETP sludge) from the factory exacerbated the crisis. Part of this material was dumped in landfill sites within the factory compound. Large quantities of it were trucked out and disposed off in the farmlands all around and far off places. The factory had impressed upon the peasants that it was good manure. The sludge had no nitrogen content but dangerous levels of cadmium and high levels of lead makes it a hazardous waste. Too much of cadmium in the soil has lead to the leaching into the wells. The presence of excess cadmium in the farmland has lead to nutrient imbalance in the soil. The farmlands, which had apparently very good soil structure got deteriorated in due course.
Farming households have suffered a steep decline in yield to less than half the levels of what obtained before 2000. Further, the number of coconut palms assigned for toddy tapping also declined to nearly half during this period, since tapping contractors selected only the irrigated trees. Ninety-one percent of the farming households reported that owing to reduction in crop productivity, their agricultural income declined drastically. So they had reduced employment of hired labour. Consequently, the number of days of employment of agricultural labour dwindled. Of the 916 workers who moved to other villages in search of work, 72% reported that they experienced severe unemployment in their own village since 2000. In other words, migration was forced upon most of them.
The fodder and water in Plachimada and surrounding areas were contaminated with copper, cadmium, lead and chromium, more than the admissible level by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) has found that the fodder, milk, meat and egg samples collected from Plachimada area contain the above elements, at a toxic level and that would explain not only the loss of animals and birds but also the reduction in the productive capacity of the animals. Production of milk, meat and egg declined which in turn affected the household income and health of the people.
There is abundant evidence to conclude that the operation of the Plant has exacerbated the drinking water crisis of the Plachimada Panchayat by excessive pumping and over-extraction of ground water. Further, it polluted drinking water by its careless and irresponsible disposal of sludge and treated effluents. Particularly hard hit are the dalits, tribals, women and children of the surrounding area. As the water supply deteriorated, the women had to travel about 5 kms to fetch drinking water. This has resulted in loss of wages for these women. Serious damage caused by the contamination of aquifers and springs had adversely affected agriculture yield and productivity.
The deterioration in the quality and quantity of groundwater and the consequential public health problems, displacement and migration of labour and the destruction of the agricultural economy are the main problems identified in Plachimada which have been caused and contributed by the Coca Cola Factory. The people living in the vicinity of the Company have been the worst affected. The problems were further aggravated by the deterioration of agricultural lands by depositing the hazardous wastes at the behest of the Company. During the rainy season, these deposits have spread into paddy fields, canals and wells, causing a serious health hazard. The Company abandoned this practice and began pumping dirty water into dry bore holes that had been drilled on the site for the disposal of solid waste. This polluted the aquifers.
In 2003, the District Medical Officer advised the people of Plachimada that their water was polluted and unfit for consumption. The natural water resource at Plachimada has been ruined beyond immediate replenishment. It will take decades for natural replenishment. At present water in the open wells in the area, which were the sources of drinking water, is unfit for drinking. All these point to the gross violation of pollution control laws, basic human rights and the right to life as guaranteed in Art. 21 of the Constitution of India. HCBPL has neither acknowledged the existence of any of these problems nor shown a readiness to appreciate the truth behind these findings. On the other hand the Company has always been eager to downplay public agitation against these human problems. But the fact that the Company has violated a number of provisions in the various laws is irrefutable. Some of the major Acts which have been violated by HCBPL are as below:
(1) Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
(2) The Environment (Protection) Act ,1986
(3) The Factories Act, 1948
(4) Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules , 1989
(5) The SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989
(6) Indian Penal Code
(7) Land Utilization Order, 1967
(8) The Kerala Ground Water (Control & Regulation) Act, 2002
(9) Indian Easement Act, 1882.
The fact that Coca Cola factory at Plachimada has caused immense damage to the environment and people and their livelihood and health is supported by impeccable evidence. In fact any other finding can only be a figment of imagination. Though the Company is liable to be proceeded against the various sections of several Acts, an institutional mechanism to address each representation of the victims is necessary for achieving speedy justice.
Two recommendations put forth in this Report are:
Government may constitute by legislation a Claims Tribunal for the adjudication of disputes relating to compensation due to water and air pollution, loss of agricultural crops and animals, diseases affecting human beings in the surrounding area due to the excess drawl and pollution of groundwater and surface water by the Company.
The other option is to approach the Central Government to constitute an Authority under section 3 (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The Authority can be vested with all the powers necessary to deal with the situation created by the Company as was done in Tamil Nadu to deal with issues arising from the tanneries and other polluting industries. The Committee has come to the conclusion that the Company is responsible for these damages and it is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and the pollution caused to the water resources. The value of water extracted and depleted has not been calculated though it needs to be compensated. These calculations are only indicative in nature and should not be treated as the outer limit of compensation to be claimed which has to be arrived at by the dedicated adjudicating agency to be created. However, on an estimation based on available inputs, the following amounts could be claimed as reasonable compensation.
Agriculture loss: Rs. 84. 16 crores
Health damages: Rs. 30. 00 crores
Cost of providing water: Rs. 20.00 crores
Wage loss and opportunity cost: Rs. 20.00 crores
Cost of pollution of the water resources: Rs. 62.10 crores
Total: Rs. 216.26 crores
The recommendations and observations of this Report can be summed up as follows:
• The Coca Cola Company at Plachimada has been causing environmental degradation by over extraction of ground water and irresponsible disposal of the sludge.
• The Coca Cola Company is culpable under several laws in force.
• The water resources of the area have been affected and the water scarcity has been compounded.
• By passing off the sludge as manure, the Company has not only misguided the farmers but has become responsible for the soil degradation, water contamination and consequential loss of agriculture.
• There has been a steady decline in the agriculture production in the area.
• The production of milk, meat and eggs also has suffered.
• Metals like cadmium, lead and chromium have been detected in the sludge and this has affected the health of the people.
• The general health of the people has been affected with skin ailments, breathing problems and other debilities.
• Low birth weight of children has also been noticed.
• Environment of the Village has acutely been damaged by polluting water and soil.
• Drinking water has become scarce and women have to walk long distances and this has deprived them of their wages, and this needs to be compensated.
• Children have dropped out of the school on account of the social, health and economic factors caused by the pollution caused and this opportunity cost has to be compensated.
• The Grama Panchayat has been providing drinking water in tanker lorries ever since the wells and water bodies have been rendered useless by the Company by its extraction of water and disposal and effluents.
• The actual economic loss on account of the depletion of water resources has not been quantified but its proxies have been used.
• The compensation that could be claimed on various losses has been calculated as below:
Agriculture loss: Rs. 84. 16 crores
Health damages: Rs. 30. 00 crores
Cost of providing water: Rs. 20.00 crores
Wage loss and opportunity cost: Rs. 20.00 crores
Cost of pollution of the water resources: Rs. 62.10 crores
Total: Rs. 216.26 crores
• There are sufficient provisions under the existing laws to claim this compensation of these damages from the Company under the ‘polluter pays principle’.
• However it is desirable to set up a dedicated institution to adjudicate the individual claims. Such a dedicated mechanism could either be a Tribunal under Art. 323 B of the Constitution of India to be legislated by the state legislature or an Authority under section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to be created by the Central Government.
• Once Government decides on a suitable mechanism and it comes into being, individual claims will have to be assessed and actual compensation decreed and the polluter Company made to pay it.
• The company located in this drought-prone area, should not resume its operation.
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