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BSF in West Bengal imposing 'illegal' curbs on Dalit farmers seeking to go to cultivate

Counterview Desk 

Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), Hooghly, in a representation to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission wonders if the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel have some extra constitutional power, pointing towards how Dalits have been put under illegal restrictions in violation of Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) . 
According to Roy, "The BSF have illegally issued a customized ID proof for the villagers of Khitaber Kuthi-1, which they have to produce in order to go to their own fields. In most of these fencing gates the ID issued by the Government of India, like aadhaar card and EPIC, are not accepted by the border guards." Worse, at one spot, BSF personnel "have put an embargo on the cultivation of these two crops in particular stating that the measure is to stop illegal smuggling activities in the border".

Text:

I want to attract your attention towards the illegitimate restrictions and livelihood violation of the villagers of Khitaber Kuthi-1 village of Chowdhuryhat gram panchayat under Dinhata-II Block of Sahebganj police station in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal by the Border Security Force personnel attached with ‘B’ Company of Jhikri Border Out  Post (BOP) under 192 Battalion BSF.
About 1,700 people reside in the Khitaber Kuthi-village, where most of the villagers belong from Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and minority Muslim backgrounds. The village is located at about 200 meters from the border of India and Bangladesh, with limited infrastructural facilities. For instance, a primary school or a ration shop is located about 2 kilometers away from the village. Most of the roads in the village are not metaled and there are no irrigation facilities provided by the government.
The primary occupation of the villagers is agriculture but due to the restrictions imposed by the BSF, their income has reduced to around Rs 50,000 per year and most of the farmers have started migrating to other parts of the country in search of jobs. There are approximately 140 acres of cultivable land situated outside the border fencing.
The BSF is posted beside the International Boundary Border Road (IBBR) and controls the ingress and egress of the villagers into their agricultural fields through fencing gates. The BSF have illegally issued a customized ID proof for the villagers of Khitaber Kuthi-1, which they have to produce in order to go to their own fields. In most of these fencing gates the ID issued by the Government of India, like aadhaar card and EPIC, are not accepted by the border guards of India.
Our fact-finding reveals that most of the villagers have been facing severe restrictions to cultivate in their own lands and hence incurring grave financial losses. Due to lack of proper irrigation facilities in these areas, the villagers couldn’t cultivate ‘Boro’ crops.
Hence the only profitable option to cultivate in these areas are jute and corn. But the BSF personnel attached with 192 Battalion of Jhikri BSF BOP have put an embargo on the cultivation of these two crops in particular stating that the measure is to stop illegal smuggling activities in the border.
It was figured out that there is a huge difference in the profit margin between cultivating jute and paddy. A farmer earns around Rs 3,300 per acre while farming paddy but can earn up to Rs 75000 per acre while cultivating jute. Their regular expenses as well as daily livelihood depends on this income.
The villagers, after getting to know from the newspaper that jute cultivation season has opened, have made all necessary arrangements like putting chemical fertilizer and preparing the field for jute cultivation. Each of the land owners have invested around Rs 2,000 for cultivating jute.
But as soon as they were about to plant jute seeds in their fields, the BSF personnel stopped them. They stated that jute crops beyond the fencing would boost smuggling activities in the village. Due to such illegitimate restrictions by the BSF, about 65 families are incurring heavy loss in agriculture.
The victim villagers from Khitaber Kuthi-1 village lodged a complaint to the Sub-Divisional Officer of Dinhata Sub-division and Dinhata-II Block Development Officer on March 21, 2022 regarding the restrictions imposed on their livelihood and agriculture and the arbitrary actions of the BSF due to which they are suffering huge losses.
In the complaint they have informed that in the previous years they were able to cultivate jute in their lands but after the 192 BSF Battalion took charge of the Jhikri outpost, they are being restricted to cultivate jute. After the complaint was made, on April 12, 2022, two officers from Dinhata-II BDO office came to the village and enquired about jute cultivation.
The villagers informed the officers about the illegal restriction on jute cultivation by the BSF. However, instead of providing a solution on the restriction on agriculture, the officers offered to provide irrigation facilities to the villagers and insisted them to cultivate ‘Boro’ paddy in their fields. The villagers didn’t agree to this since cultivating paddy instead of jute would not be profitable for them.
Following are the names and details of few victim villagers:
These whimsical actions and arbitrary restriction imposed by the BSF personnel of Jhikri BOP upon the villagers of Khitaber Kuthi-1 is not only challenging their life and livelihood but also violating the Article 21 and Article 19 of the Constitution of India and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The plight of the villagers and denial of their proper livelihood practices is against the Articles 7 and 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the goal number 8 and 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In all these international instruments, the Government of India is a party and have taken pledge to adhere with.
Under the circumstances, I request your urgent intervention in this case by fulfilling these demands of the villagers:
  • The BSF should be posted at the zero point to stop cross border movement, not to restrict movement of villagers for their livelihood.
  • BSF should respect the Parliament and the Constitution, they cannot impose own rule
  • Proper steps to be taken against the Commanding Officer (CO) of 192 Battalion BSF and in particular, against Company Commander of ‘B’ Company of 192 Battalion BSF for forcefully issuing unconstitutional procedures.
  • The villagers should be provided with agricultural (irrigation) support.
  • Proper legal steps to be taken for violation of Article 2 of ICESCR, 1966.
  • The farmers should be compensated for the financial loss for illegal restriction of the BSF attached with Jhikri BOP.

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