Chakmas and Hajongs face starvation
by Suhas Chakma on 01 May 2020 4 Comments

Arunachal Pradesh’s Chakma and Hajong tribes are suffering massive hunger and starvation as they have been excluded from the “economic package for vulnerable sections” at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Around 65,875 Chakmas and Hajongs are being forced by the State Government to buy rice @Rs 29/kg. The two tribes include around 22,000 children, who are the worst victims.


Since March 24, 2020, India has been under national lockdown to deal with COVID-19 and the poor, especially those below poverty line and daily wage earners have been severely affected due to inability to work. The Government of India, on April 9, 2020 directed the Food Corporation of India “to provide food grains @5 Kg per person per month for 3 months at Rs. 21/Kg for wheat and Rs.22/Kg for rice, uniformly across the country to all beneficiaries not covered under the National Food Security Act, in order to ensure that no one in India went hungry for lack of ration cards.


Even NGOs and charitable organisations were given grains at this rate as they are providing relief to thousands daily. In fact, Government directed the FCI to provide wheat and rice to these organizations without any upper limit on quantity. It was hoped that this order would ensure food grain supply throughout the country and ensure that every section of the society received access to adequate food grains at reasonable prices.


Besides food grains, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh gave one time aid of Rs 1000 to BPL families; Rs 1000 to vulnerable sections (poor old age citizens, widows and disabled persons under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana); Rs 2000 for 2 months to non-government workers in unorganised sector; Free LPG to BPL for 3 months under Ujjawala; first installment of Rs 2000 from Gol and first installment of Rs 1000 from State Government to farmers under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sammaan Yojana; Rs 500/- per woman for 3 months having Jan Dhan accounts; wages under MNREGA at Rs. 202; collateral free loans up to Rs 20 lakhs instead of Rs 10 lakhs to SHGs; Funds from SDRF for helping those who lost their livelihood during the time of lockdown.


The Addl. Deputy Commissioner of Bordumsa, Changlang district, Devensh Yadav, issued a notification on April 14, 2020, stating that “any Tea Estates/ Commercial establishments/ individuals” of Diyun circle can purchase the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) of rice received from Food Corporation of India @ Rs 27/kg for wholesale and Rs 29/kg for retail selling price, thus superseding the Central Government directions of April 12, 2020.


The order of April 14 thus denied rice Rs 22/kg. It is pertinent to mention that the State Government of Arunachal Pradesh, vide Order No. CS/PR-164/09/99 dated October 25, 1991, illegally and arbitrarily seized the rations cards of the Chakmas and Hajongs, and banned issuance of ration cards to them, thereby violating the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This extraction of ration cards which were enjoyed for decades by Chakmas and Hajongs prior to October 25, 1991 was unfair, unjust, unreasonable, oppressive and arbitrary and violated the principles laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Menaka Gandhi vs. Union of India [AIR 1978 SC 597)] that “The procedure prescribed by law has to be fair, just and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary” with respect to Article 21 of the Constitution.


The Supreme Court of India vide its judgment in National Human Rights Commission Vs State of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr [1996 AIR 1234 1996 SCC (1) 742] dated January 9, 1996 categorically directed that “(1) the first respondent, the State of Arunachal Pradesh, shall ensure that the life and personal liberty of each and every Chakma residing within the State”.


The Supreme Court in numerous judgments including in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 196 of 2001 in Peoples Union for Civil Liberties Vs Union of India & Anr, stated that the right to life includes the right to live with dignity and all that goes along with it, including the right to food. The NHRC itself subsequently took the view “that the Right to Food is inherent to a life with dignity, and Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees a fundamental right to life and personal liberty should be read with Articles 39(a) and 47 to understand the nature of the obligations of the State in order to ensure the effective realization of this right.”


Currently, there is massive hunger among the Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh as they cannot afford to buy rice at Rs 29/per kg. Trapped in the lockdown, thousands of Chakmas and Hajongs who are daily wage labourers cannot work. They and their children are facing starvation.


The Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh are citizens of India. Out of the 65,875 Chakmas and Hajongs, around 61,238 Chakmas and Hajongs are citizens by birth as per Section 3(1) of the Citizenship Act. The State government of Arunachal Pradesh informed the State Assembly that 5,097 Chakmas and Hajongs have been exercising the right to vote as citizens of India. It is only because of blatant acts of discrimination that others have not been included in the voter lists.


Out of the total 65,875 Chakmas and Hajongs in the State, 4,637 are survivors of migration during 1964-1969. Not one application of these survivors of migration has been processed as on date, despite the judgment of the Supreme Court dated  January 9, 1997 in National Human Rights Commission Vs State of Arunachal Pradesh & Anr [1996 AIR 1234 1996 SCC (1) 742] and subsequent judgment dated September 17, 2015 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 510 of 2007 in the case of Committee For C.R. of C.A.P. & Ors vs State Of Arunachal Pradesh & Ors, directing the Union of India and the State of Arunachal Pradesh to complete the processing of the citizenship applications “at the earliest preferably within three months”.


An overwhelming majority of the Chakmas and Hajongs, having faced State-sponsored discrimination in the last 56 years, are extremely poor. Yet the State government has not taken any measure to include them under the National Food Security Act, 2013 despite including some in the voter list. However, the National Food Security Act, 2013 is “An Act to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”. The right to life guaranteed under the Citizenship Act is available to any “person” irrespective of his status.


The State of Arunachal Pradesh is violating the fundamental rights of Chakmas and Hajongs who are citizens of India. It is the duty of the Government of India to end this inhumane and degrading treatment. The State of Arunachal Pradesh and Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution must be asked to ensure all Chakmas and Hajongs have access to rice at Rs 5/kg immediately till June 2020 or such time as may be extended by the Union of India.


If starvation deaths are to be averted, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh and Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution must be told to take all necessary steps to implement the National Food Security Act. This includes identification of eligible households among Chakmas and Hajongs of Arunachal Pradesh, ensuring food grains at subsidised prices to persons belonging to eligible households under the Targetted Public Distribution System, and offering nutritional support to pregnant women and lactating mothers, and nutritional support to children.


The author is director, Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) 

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