Dalit residents from Khitaber Kuthi – 1 village in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal have been complaining about the restrictions imposed by Border Security Force on their livelihood and agriculture and the arbitrary actions of the BSF due to which they are suffering huge losses.
About 1700 people reside in the Khitaber Kuthi – 1 village, where most of the villagers belong from Scheduled Caste and Muslim communities.
“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 Rupees 50 thousand per year and most of the farmers have started migrating to other parts of the country in search of jobs,” said Kirity Roy, Secretary of Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM).
On Friday, Roy sent a detailed complaint regarding this matter to the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission.
“There are approximately 140 acres of cultivable land situated outside the border fencing. The BSF is posted beside the 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,” Roy said in the complaint.
Roy further claimed that his NGO’s 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 that there is a huge difference in the profit margin between cultivating jute and paddy. A farmer earns around Rupees 3300 per acre while farming paddy but can earn up to Rupees 75 thousand per acre while cultivating jute. Their regular expenses as well as daily livelihood depends on this income,” it noted.
Roy went on to say: “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 Rupees 2000 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.”
Three months ago, 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 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, 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.
Roy said: “These whimsical actions and arbitrary restriction imposed by the Border Security Force personnel of Jhikri Border Outpost 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.”
The Border Security Force should be posted at the zero point to stop cross border movement, not to restrict movement of villagers for their livelihood, the complaint to NHRC urges.
The farmers should be compensated for the financial loss for illegal restriction of the BSF attached with Jhikri BOP, it demanded.