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Starvation deaths in Delhi: Violation of right to food at anganwadi centre, midday meal in school

By Our Representative
The shocking death of three minor girls Mansi (8), Shikha (4) and Parul (2) died on July 24, 2018 in Mandawali, East Delhi, whose post mortem reports point towards starvation as the cause, was caused by the failure to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, in its letter and spirit, says a report by a civil society-sponsored Fact-Finding team, which made an on-the-spot inquiry on July 28.
The team consisted of members of the Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan (DRRAA), Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri; bureaucrat-turned activist Harsh Mander, who has been special commissioner to the Supreme Court in the Right to Food case; well-known student-activist Anirban Bhattacharya; Vidit Verma from the Centre for Equity Studies; and Ashok Kumar of the grassroots organization Satark Nagrik Sangathan.
The fact-finding report particularly focuses on how NFSA’s three main provision were not implemented: (1) the right to food at the Anganwadi centre for the 2 younger siblings (the 4 year old Shikha would have been entitled to a snack and a hot meal while 2 year old Parul would have been entitled to take home rations); (2) midday meal for Mansi, the eldest daughter in school; and (3) at least 25 kg of grain per month for the family under the Public Distribution System.

Excerpts from the report:

As per the eligibility criteria defined by the Delhi government, the family was eligible for a ration card. However, the family did not possess a ration card and was not receiving ration under the Public Distribution System (PDS).
A quota system is followed under the PDS where number of people to be given ration cards is pre-decided and therefore, even if people meet the eligibility criteria, they are excluded. Further, many people get excluded due to insistence on furnishing of id proof/address proof and Aadhaar.
These end up excluding the most needy and marginalised. Of the 28 families who live in the building where the girls eventually died only 1 or 2 had a ration card. Similarly, none of the neighbours in the Railway Colony had ration cards and only 1 rickshaw puller from among the 25 we met possessed a ration card.
There was no functional anganwadi at the place where the family lived for several years. As a result, the two younger siblings were not enrolled in any anganwadi and were not receiving the daily food rations that they were entitled to under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, which operates within the framework of the NFSA.
The Anganwadi centres are mandated to monitor the growth of children by weighing them regularly. Angawadi workers are required to survey the local area to identify children and ensure their enrolment in the Anganwadi. While it would be easy to lay the blame on the front line worker, the failure extends much beyond.
Anganwadi workers are paid a pittance, not even minimum wages (Anganwadi workers and helpers are paid Rs 9,678 and Rs 4,839 per month, respectively) and are expected to be at the front line for all kinds of schemes and programs, including those that have little to do with the well-being of children.
The issue of the non-functional Anganwadis could have been arrested and redressed had the statutory accountability provisions been put in place. The NFSA requires each state government to implement various grievance redress and accountability provisions, including- carrying out of periodic social audits (S. 28) and setting up of State Food Commission (S. 16).
The Delhi government has failed to put in place this statutory framework despite repeated directions from the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court. Lack of accountability systems means peoples complaints of denial of food security, like not having a ration card, non-functional anganwadis etc. remain unaddressed.
Had the system of social audits been active, it would have thrown up these anomalies of non-functional anganwadis and needy families being left out of the purview of the NFSA.
The inadequacy of the entitlements under NFSA have been frequently highlighted by people working on food security and also political parties. While he was CM of Gujarat, Mr. Modi had said 5 kgs grain per person under the PDS as envisaged in the NFSA is wholly inadequate.
However, in the last 4.5 years, there has been no increase in allocation under NFSA either by way of enhancing entitlements or increasing the coverage. Similarly, the Aam Aadm Party (AAP) in its manifesto had promised Dal and oil as part of the public distribution system. However, no steps have been taken by the government to provide these after election.
No provision of mid day meal (MDM) during vacations and failure to deliver on promises to increase entitlements in MDM- According to neighbours and locals the eldest girl had been regular in attending school prior to the summer vacations but had attended only a couple of days of school in July.
Perhaps the lack of provision of mid day meal during the vacations may have contributed towards her untimely death. Even in the case of the 11 year old girl Santoshi who died of starvation in Simdega district of Jharkhand, local fact finding teams found that the disruption in the MDM due to durga puja vacations, was a contributing factor.
The issue of enhancing entitlements, especially by including eggs, under MDM has been a longstanding demand of the Right to Food Campaign. As a result of several representations, the Delhi government announced in the 2017-18 budget speech that banana/boiled egg will be provided to each student from the Delhi budget and additional amount of Rs 55 crore was announced. However information received under the RTI Act found that no fund had actually been released and banana/boiled egg were not being provided in schools.
The right to food is a fundamental right implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Yet, there is no framework to enable the portability of the right to food. Ration cards issued in one state are not usable in another which causes a huge problem for migrants.
The insistence on proof of residence in the state where one is seeking a ration card precludes the possibility of migrants obtaining a ration card. Migrants form a large proportion of the population of Delhi and their contribution is integral to the economy, yet the current food security framework completely ignores their predicament.
Across several states in India, community kitchens/canteens have been set up to address the needs of the poor and marginalised, including the homeless. The kitchens provide hot cooked food at nominal prices or free of cost and do not turn away any person desirous of food. Despite the large number of homeless people and migrants who are excluded from the food security program, there is no such mechanism in place in Delhi.

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