Skip to main content

Dozen starvation deaths in Jharkhand "suggests" govt indifference towards people's food insecurity

Chintaman Malhar's family
By Asharfi Nand Prasad*
Over the past ten months at least 12 persons may have succumbed to hunger in Jharkhand. Yet, instead of taking action against functionaries leading to these deaths and taking measures to improve the situation of food security, the state government has denied hunger as the cause of any of these deaths.
Absolving the government of any blame, state food minister Saryu Roy has accused activists who are highlighting the gross violations of right to food in Jharkhand.
However, the recent deaths of Savitri Devi in Giridh, Meena Musahar in Chatra and Chintaman Malhar in Ramgarh seek to expose the government’s lack of seriousness to address the issue of starvation in the state.
Savitri Devi, a 60-year old widow, died on June 2, 2018 after prolonged hunger and inadequate nutrition. Her family members do not remember the last time they cooked dal. The household did not have a ration card, despite applying for one at the Gram Panchayat a few months ago. This contradicts the government’s claim that Savitri Devi’s family did not apply for a ration card.
Also, contrary to the claims made by the government, Savitri Devi was never admitted in RIMS Ranchi for treatment. Even though her widow pension was sanctioned in 2014, the first pension instalment was credited only in April 2018 after her aadhaar was linked with the scheme. Savitri Devi was not informed that her pension was credited.
Savitri Devi's house
Fifty-year old Chitaman of Mandu, Ramgarh lived a life of extreme deprivation and died a hungry man. He too did not have a ration card. Rather than admitting the alarming situation of the family and its neighbours, government officials tricked Chintaman’s son into signing a statements that told a different tale.
Yet, the food minister claimed that the son himself admitted that his father died a natural death, even as suggesting that the victim’s body be exhumed for post-mortem. He interpreted the son’s refusal for this as a proof that the victim did not die of starvation.
Meena Musahar, a ragpicker, also died in destitution and acute poverty. According to her neighbours, she was so malnourished that she could not feed her infant child who died a week before her. She did not have a ration card. Jharkhand government has conveniently absolved itself of any responsibility as she may have come from Gaya, Bihar in search of livelihoods. The Food Minister even said that his department was not responsible for the starvation death of persons who did not have ration cards.
Contrary to government’s claims, the immediate causes of the 12 recent starvation deaths include denial of subsidised rice due to absence of a ration card, cancellation of ration card due to absence of Aadhaar linkage or failure of Aadhaar-based biometric authentication. It is true that many of the starvation victims were also ill, but they would probably not have succumbed to hunger if they received adequate nutrition and medical care.
Denial of social security pensions and absence of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act further contributed to the destitution of the starvation victims and their families. At least four victims were eligible to social security pension, but were either not issued a pension or did not receive their pension due to administrative lapses or Aadhaar-related issues.
The starvation deaths have exposed the exclusion of poor households from the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the alarming levels of food insecurity in the state. A highly effective measure of addressing these problems is the universalisation of the PDS in rural areas and inclusion of nutritious items in the PDS.
Discharge note by doctor confirms,
Meena Musahar was brought dead
The deaths have also raised questions on the coverage of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) as most of these families, despite living a life of acute poverty, did not have AAY ration cards. Instead of any discussion on such moves, the Food Minister has instead proposed setting up of grain banks. Even if such banks are established, they will fail to ensure universal access to food security as a matter of right.
The government’s indifference towards people’s food insecurity is also revealed by its foot-dragging in the withdrawal of the “Direct Benefit Transfer for food security” pilot in Nagri block of Ranchi. By all accounts, the results of the pilot are disastrous. However, the Food Department is yet to roll back this pilot or compensate ration cardholders who are denied their legal entitlement to subsidised foodgrain in this ill-conceived initiative. In fact, it has even failed to make public the findings of the government’s own social audit of this pilot.
The Right to Food Campaign demands immediate withdrawal of the “Direct Benefit Transfer for food security” pilot. It also demands the universalisation of the PDS in rural areas and inclusion of pulses and edible oil in the PDS – a promise made by the Food Minister himself. The government should also immediately remove the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar from PDS – and all other public services – and strengthen the grievance redress system to be established under the National Food Security Act.
---
*Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand

Comments

TRENDING

Amit Shah 'wrong': Lack of transparency characterized bank frauds, NPAs, jobs data

Counterview Desk
India's senior RTI activists Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venktesh Nayak, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog and Pradip Pradhan, who are attached with the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), have said that Union home minister Amit Shah's claim that the Government of India is committed to transparency stands in sharp contrast to its actual actions.

Untold story of Jammu: Business 'down', students fear lynching, teachers can't speak

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released report, seeking to debunk the view that people in Jammu, the second biggest city of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after Srinagar, people had gone “out celebrating” abrogation of Article 370 which took away the state’s special status, has reported what it calls “abominably high levels of fear” across all sections in the town.

Kashmiris in a civil disobedience mode, are going against 'diktat' to open shops

Counterview Desk
A team of concerned citizens, including Ludhiana-based psychiatrist and writer Anirudh Kala, Mumbai-based activist and public health professional Brinelle Dsouza, Delhi-based journalist and writer Revati Laul, and social activist Shabnam Hashmi, travelled to Kashmir and Jammu to understand the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent security clampdown and communication blockade on the lives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…

Success of 'political' Hinduism: Kashmiris being depicted as antagonists of rest of India

By Anand K Sahay*
There are times in history when facts call attention to themselves; they assert their independence in all its amplitude and are in no need of the crutch of interpretation. Such a moment is visible in Kashmir now. Merely by being on the table, the facts there taunt the regime’s proclamations.