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Murder charges against tea gardens for diarrhoea epidemic


Guwahati : The Assam government will frame charges ranging from culpable homicide to negligence against several tea gardens for an outbreak of diarrhoea that has claimed 168 lives since April.

“Tea gardens simply ignored repeated instructions and flouted norms by supplying drinking water to their workers that is not safe and hygienic. We have asked the police to frame charges under Section 302 (murder) against gardens that did not comply with our orders,” said Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The worst hit districts are Jorhat, Golaghat, Dhubri and Morigaon. The disease that has assumed epidemic proportions has affected more than 18,000 people.

Most of the cases were reported from tea garden areas. “Even tube wells in some gardens were located along a drain and this is only inviting waterborne diseases,” Sarma told IANS.

Team of doctors and representatives from Unicef visited areas in eastern Assam.

“The reports that we have got from the visiting teams are very disturbing. In some cases we have found a single tube well for as many as five labour colonies,” Sarma said.

In Jorhat district, 8,303 people in 23 tea gardens and four villages were affected since April, claiming 85 lives, including 30 women and 31 children.

In Golaghat, 37 people, including 15 women and seven children have died – the disease has hit 15 tea gardens and six villages affecting 4,100 people.

In some areas, laboratory tests on patients suffering from diarrhoea found strain of cholera. Authorities, however, said the strain was not ‘very virulent’ and there was no need for panic.

“The disease is spreading mostly in tea gardens and it is primarily due to lack of basic hygiene, non-availability of clean drinking water and poor sanitation facilities. The garden managements should provide these amenities to their workers,” a health department official said.

In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known – a healthy person may die within two to three hours of the onset of symptoms.

The symptoms include those of general stomach upset and massive watery diarrhoea, including terrible muscle and stomach cramps, vomiting and fever. Cholera is transmitted through ingestion of faeces contaminated water loaded with the cholera bacterium.

The source of the contamination is typically other cholera patients when their untreated diarrhoea discharge is allowed to get into waterways or into groundwater or drinking water supply. Any infected water and any foods washed in the water, and fish living in the affected waterway can cause an infection.