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13th starvation death in Jharkhand: Family of Birhor was "denied" ration card in the absence of aadhaar

Birhor's family
Rajendra Birhor
By Asharfi Nand Prasad et al*
On July 24, 2018, 39-year old Rajendra Birhor of Chainpur village (Gram Panchayat Nawadih, block Mandu, district Ramgarh) succumbed to poor nutrition and illness. A civil society fact-finding team, which visited the village on July 26, 2018 to investigate the death of Birhor in the village, has been told that his family not issued a ration card under the National Food Security Act.
Talking to the team, which comprised of Basant Hetamsaria and Leo Singh (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Ankita Aggarwal and Siraj Dutta (Right to Food Campaign) and Sonal Tiwary (Human Rights Law Network), the Block Development Officer (BDO) admitted that the family was excluded from the Public Distribution System as it did not have Aadhaar.
As per Supreme Court orders, the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) – to which Birhors belong – are entitled to 35kg of food grain every month on an Antyodaya Anna Yojana ration card. Further, Jharkhand’s PVTG households are to get food grain free of cost at their doorstep.
Rajendra Birhor stopped working about a year ago due to extreme weakness. His wife managed to find work for only 2-3 days a week. Due to the sharp fall in the family’s income over the past year, the husband, wife and their six children routinely ate less food of inadequate nutrition. The family last worked under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in 2010-11. It also does not receive the state social security pension of Rs 600 a month for PVTG households. The BDO was unaware of this scheme.
The block development officer
About a month and a half ago, Rajendra Birhor fell seriously ill. He was taken to the Community Health Centre (CHC) in Mandu, as doctors are not available at the local Primary Health Centre. The doctor at the CHC referred him to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Ranchi. The doctor, whom the fact-finding team met, was unable to explain why simple procedures such as blood and urine tests were not conducted at the medical facilities in Mandu or Ramgarh.
No medicine was prescribed to Rajendra Birhor at the CHC. Unable to take Rajendra Birhor to RIMS, his family brought him back home. It paid Rs 3,000 to a local “jholachhaap” doctor for his treatment, for which it had to sell a pig. The doctor at the CHC blamed the local Sahiya (also known as ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) for not following up on Rajendra Birhor’s health.
On June 14, 2018, Chitaman Malhar of the same block had died of hunger. Investigations revealed that none of the families of the locality – Malhar Toli of Kundariya Basti – have a ration card. When the fact-finding team visited Malhar Toli on 26 July, it learnt that no household in the locality had received a ration card or its foodgrain entitlement under the National Food Security Act.
Chitaman Malhar’s death was preceded by a spate of 11 starvation deaths in Jharkhand, all within a span of nine months. In at least seven of these deaths, aadhaar-related failures clearly contributed to starvation. The team, in its report, noted that the government has taken no note of the demand for a universal Public Distribution System with inclusion of nutritious items such as pulses and edible oil and the delinking of welfare programmes with Aadhaar.
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With Basant Hetamsariya and Siraj Dutta, Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand. Contact: rtfcjharkhand@gmail.com

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