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Forced, unsafe migration of minority populace, non-implementation of govt schemes

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission:

***
On the eve of 61st Republic Day, I want to bring your urgent attention to a case of unsafe and insecure migration of villagers of Koiladangi of North Dinajpur district of West Bengal due to livelihood issues. Due to social and economic insecurity and degrading life conditions these villagers are being forced to undertake these migration efforts for a better life. But, due to the hazardous conditions under which these people are undertaking migration, instead of having a better life they are falling prey to numerous hostile situations. Thus, I would describe the situation to you, and demand for some positive and fruitful actions. I hope that after reading the details of the case you will take steps with utmost empathy to secure the basic human rights of these people.
The village Koiladangi comes under the jurisdiction of the Bindol IV Gram Panchayat in Raiganj Block in North Dinajpur district of West Bengal. Majority of the population in this village belongs to the minority muslim community. Though many of these villagers undertake seasonal migration to meet their ends, their natural profession is agriculture as the village has arable land of approximately 4000 Bighas. This village is situated at the International border between India and Bangladesh. As the border fencing is situated 50 to 200 meters inland, the villagers get cut off from their farmland, a vast swath of which is situated on the wrong side of the fencing. The section of this border comes under the jurisdiction of BSF Bn 72 personnel attached to Koiladangi BOP. These said personnel put in place whimsical restrictions on livelihood activity, thus de facto forcing the people to undertake unsafe migration. In the village of approximately 3000 people, around 70% are forced to go to other States in search of livelihood. In our fact finding we found that almost every household has at least one person who is a seasonal migrant.
Let us come to the specifics of the case. We hold a detailed fact finding of the situations faced by the 16 migrants from the village (Mentioned below):
In our fact-finding we have found that One Salam Ali from Bisrail village of Raiganj Block is the contractor responsible for taking these people to the other States. All of these people are associated with menial labor. At their work-places they live in inhuman conditions. Their daily wage is lower than the national average. They do not have access to any benefits of government schemes.
During the interviews we held during the fact finding, we came to know from the wife of a migrant worker, Mobharak Hussian that her husband is forced to stay in inhuman conditions where basic facilities such as water, sanitation etc. are lacking. But, as it is impossible for them to meet their ends from agricultural activities he has to accept these conditions. We also found that even to find jobs such as vegetable vendors in places such as Old Delhi, they have to pay a hefty amount to the agents. In the case of Sultan Ali, who works as a worker in Creative Textile Pvt. Ltd. as a garment worker, we came to know that the work hour is around 10 hours against a daily wage of 500 rupees. Another one of the migrant workers Muktar Hussain says he needs to pay 40 rs a day to an agent named Rofikul of Bisrail village of Raiganj Block. On enquiring on the database about the whereabouts of the migrant workers of the village, we came to know from a member of the GP Najimul Hoque that the panchayat doesn’t maintain any database of the migrant workers. Not only the GP, any other wing of the local administration too, has failed to come up with any positive report on this front. The workers do not have BOCW cards nor they have access to any government benefits at their work-place. They are technically forced to accept all these perils as they have no other way to look.
The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1979 (ISMW) Act provides that the labor contractors recruiting migrants are required to: (i) be licensed, (ii) register migrant workers with the government authorities, and (iii) arrange for the worker to be issued passbook recording their identity. Guidelines regarding wages and protections (including accommodation, free medical facilities, and protective clothing) to be provided by the labor contractor are also outlined in the law. In this case the workers don’t even have BOCW cards. Nor do they get any legal safety net from various violations.
If these villagers get proper agricultural support, if BSF does not put any restriction on the agricultural activities, and if the villages have proper implementation of the welfare schemes, these people never migrate to other states. BSF’s intervention in the workings of the farmers, making arbitrary rules not to cultivate any profitable crops within 200 meter distance from the border fencing paralyzes the villagers economically. This incident also violates Articles 2, 12, 13 and 16 of the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP) in whose favor the Government of India voted. When these villagers migrate to different states for earning, they are subjected to ill treatment which is also in violation of the provision of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Where will these people go for a better future? ‘Life’ in Article 21 of the Constitution is not merely the physical act of breathing. It is much wider, including the right to live with human dignity and the right to livelihood. Due to these de facto forced migration these people are losing this very right. Not only the BSF, but all the appendages of government such as DM, SP, SDO, BDO and the peoples representatives due to whose negligence the people are suffering, are equally responsible for such a situation.
In conjunction with these, we want to mention a few things which are applicable for this case and are applicable in general to the region as well. In 2022 alone, we have put forth a total of 41 complaints related to livelihood violations and illegal restrictions in the Indo-Bangladesh border villages. But, frustratingly, we noticed that you have disposed of the cases depending on the reports of the administration, who themselves are part of the responsible parties. The current case clearly shows how the continuous infringement of rights in this region are forcing the people to migrate elsewhere looking for jobs, which in turn exposing them to further violations. It is to be mentioned here that the NHRC is empowered to undertake independent investigation through the Protection of Human Rights Act of 1993. Instead of using the provision to serve the very purpose of NHRC, if they just continue to take decisions based on the accused parties report, NHRC themselves becomes a party in the situation. The hapless villagers have nowhere to look but you, thus I presume you will set an example by taking up positive measures in the current case.
Therefore I request your urgent intervention in this case to help these villagers find respite and humane life. On this note, I am putting forth the following demands of the villagers:
● BSF should not put any restriction on the cultivation of profitable crops in the village Koiladangi.
● International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families Adopted by General Assembly resolution 45/158 of 18 December 1990, must be followed to letters.
● Security and safety of these migrant workers must be ensured, and legal safeguards such as ISMW-1979 must be implemented properly.
● Ensure the implementation of government welfare schemes such as MGNREGA at Koiladangi.
● The government must maintain a detailed register of the migrants and provide them with a government welfare scheme when they are out-station.
● The government must ensure basic facilities such as proper housing, healthcare etc. for the migrants at their work-stations.
● Government must implement schemes to provide the migrants with rations in the non-home States.
● There must be government monitoring to protect the migrants from the ill-treatment or coercion of the contractor.

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