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Muslims, Dalits off Bangladesh border 'don't have acess to' water, power, farmland

Counterview Desk 

Kirity Roy, secretary, civil rights group Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), in a letter to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, has revealed how, even after 75 years of Independence, Muslims and Dalits living next to the India-Bangladesh border do not have access to electricity, drinking water, even to their own land.
Stating that the “horrible situation” has due to “illegal restriction on the agricultural activities” imposed by the Border Security Force (BSF), plunging “farmers and their families into deeper poverty”, the letter, referring to the plight of 1,200 people reside in the Changmari village, states, There are about 200 acres of cultivable lands out of 3,500 acres is situated beyond the border fence.
“The ingress and egress of the farmers to their own agricultural land through the fencing gates are regulated by the BSF. The soil and climate of this region is very suitable for jute and maize cultivation”, it adds.

Text:

This letter is for your urgent attention to the unlawful restrictions on agricultural activities and the livelihood of the poor marginalized villagers of the Indo-Bangladesh bordering village Char Changmari under Deocharai Panchayat, Tufanganj 1 Block in Cooch Behar District, West Bengal, by the 62 Battalion - “B” Company of Border Security Force personnel posted at Jhaljhali border outpost.
About 1200 people reside in the Changmari village. Almost 70 percent of the total population belongs to Muslim community and remaining people belong to the Hindu Scheduled Caste (Dalit) background. The prime occupation of the villagers is agriculture. The average monthly income of the villagers is INR 3600.00. The distance between the border fence and the International Border Pillar is on average 1500 meter. There are about 200 acres of cultivable lands out of 3500 acres which are situated beyond the border fence. The ingress and egress of the farmers to their own agricultural land through the fencing gates are regulated by the BSF. The soil and climate of this region is very suitable for jute and maize cultivation.
No other crops grow well in this land except jute and maize. On the other hand, jute and maize have an economical value. But farmers are not allowed to cultivate jute and maize in their own agricultural land by the BSF personnel. The farmers of Char Changmari village stated that due to this illegal restriction they faced huge losses, nearly 10000/- to 15000/- per bigha, yearly.
The nearest primary school is located 2 km from the said village. The condition of village roads is very bad, no concrete or metal or brick-built road are there. Immediate maintenance work is required but none of the authorities focus on it.
The local panchayat is mainly responsible for repairing the village roads, the panchayat does not take any initiative to improve the condition of the road (Part II.- Gram Panchayat- Chapter III – Power and duties of Gram Panchayat-Section-25 of West Bengal Panchayati Raj Act 1973). The villagers are deprived from getting the safe drinking water BSF personnel encroached the land of the farmers and constructed a temporary barbed wire fence on that land. BSF personnel installed electric pillar on the agricultural land of villagers, without acquiring the land. This is highly illegal and risky activity and major accidents can happen anytime. It is also violative of the Electricity Supply Act 1948.
Local BSF also blocked the culverts of the drainage system of the village; for which lands are submerged with water. Lands of the villagers are not useful and crops are rotting.
Some of agrarian labourers who have their land beyond the fences in the above mentioned areas are:
On 23.08.2022 a written complaint has been sent by Amra Simanta Basi Committee of Char Changmari village, before the Block Development Officer of Tufanganj I Block of Coochbehar, regarding continuous restrictions and harassments on the villagers and farmers of Char Changmari village by the BSF personnel. On 04.09.2022 one officer from the intelligence branch BSF visited the place and assured them that they will remove the barbed wire fence which is illegally placed on the land of the farmers. But till date they did not take any action regarding the same.
In this regard I want to mention that –
The whole incident perpetrated by the BSF is a violation of Article 19 (1) (g) and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The prime occupation of the villagers is agriculture. This illegal restriction on the agricultural activities of the BSF plunged the farmers and their families into deeper poverty. While the Government of India has been considering implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals within 2030 and where the first goal is to eliminate poverty and eighth goal is to promote sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, but illegal activities of the agent of the government (here BSF) pushed the farmers and their family members in the face of poverty and snatched their right to decent work. The incident also violated Article 6 (Right to work) and Article 9 (Right to social security) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Therefore, we seek your urgent intervention in the following matters:
Under the circumstances, I request your urgent intervention in this case by fulfilling these demands of the villagers:
  1. 80 families residing in Char Changmari village are being illegally controlled by BSF. This wrong practice should be stopped.
  2. How can BSF be posted one and half kilometers inside Indian territory and protect the country?
  3. As BSF is a command force, there should be one central guideline or SOP to maintain the border, but in Cooch Behar district the BSF has maintained different procedures at different borders.
  4. The Border Security Force should be posted at the zero point, through IBP, and not inside the village.
  5. BSF should be instructed to follow the law of the land and stop imposing their own made-up rules.
  6. The NHRC should adhere to its own findings from their meeting with the BSF held on 16th and 17th February, 2012 and report of Mr. R. R. Jha, IAS, the then Secretary. MHA, GoI dated 07.04.2011 in NHRC case no. 44/25/13/08-09-PF.
  7. Disciplinary action should be taken against the BSF Company Commander and all others for imposing illegal restrictions upon the villagers and harassing them. Immediately booked the perpetrator BSF personnel under section 441(Criminal trespass) of Indian Penal Code.
  8. BSF should not restrict the life and livelihood of the villagers particularly of the farmers.
  9. The villagers should be provided with agricultural support.
  10. The farmers should be compensated for the financial loss due to the illegal restriction of the BSF attached with Jhaljhali BOP.

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