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45 hunger-related deaths in a year "reflect" distress across India: Aadhaar "main" reason

Counterview Desk
A protest took place at Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi, against "lack of government action on constant hunger deaths and hunger across the country" following which a delegation -- led by Aysha, Secretariat Coordinator, Right to Food Campaign, RTFC and her colleague Siraj -- met officials of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and discussed the situation of hunger in different states.
A memorandum addressed to Ram Vilas Paswan, Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, along with a list of starvation deaths, was submitted. Officials assured the delegation for a meeting with the minister for discussing ways to strenghten right to food and public distribution system within 15 days from now.

Text of the memorandum:

We write to you to express our deep concern about the constant hunger deaths across the country. There is a silent emergency in the country with about 45 reported hunger-related deaths in the past one year from different states. These deaths are a reflection of the grave situation of hunger and distress in many parts of the country and Government must act urgently to ensure that not a single person succumbs to hunger anymore.
While the reasons for this situation of hunger are deep and systemic, it is also the case there has been a failure of all the protective measures that are in place. Most of these persons were denied their legal entitlement to subsidised food grains from the Public Distribution System (PDS).
Some of the victims households were not issued ration cards, despite repeated applications. Some ration cards were cancelled as they were not linked with Aadhaar. Many were unable to access their PDS rations due to Aadhaar-based biometric authentication failures. One person was denied ration even after successful Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.
The mandatory integration of PDS with Aadhaar is causing a lot of disruption on the ground. It has eroded the progress made through other PDS reforms over the past few years. A large proportion of ration cardholders are denied their legal entitlement to subsidised food or face inconveniences due to this integration.
There are many other concerns with the implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). There are no systematic procedures for updating ration card lists and adding new names to ration cards. The population figures of 2011 are being used to determine quotas, although it has been seven years since and there is an increase in population. There is a drastic reduction in the number of Antyodaya (AAY) ration cards across the country. 
Although the NFSA includes millets, these are absent from the PDS baskets of most states. There is very poor enforcement of the transparency, accountability and grievance redress provisions of the Act. Some other provisions of the NFSA such as maternity entitlements are suffering from lack of resources, along with poor implementation.
All people residing in this country have a fundamental right to be free from hunger and malnutrition. This requires, on the one hand, sufficient availability of food, which in turn calls for strengthening of sustainable agricultural production systems, with special focus on the small rain-fed farmers. 
It requires that land and water resources must never be forcibly diverted away from food production for cash crops or industrial use. It also requires effectives systems of minimum support prices, price stabilisation, effective grain movement and storage, as well as strict regulation of speculation and trade.
Ensuring the Right to Food requires, on the other hand, economic access for people, involving for instance adequate employment and wage levels, the protection of existing livelihoods, and equitable rights over land, water and forests. It also requires social access, meaning that barriers of gender, caste, disability, stigma, age etc. must all be overcome. While it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that such conditions exist, the realization of the right to food also requires a system of direct food entitlements through public provision
Keeping the gravity of the situation in mind, Right to Food Campaign immediately demands:
  • Time in Parliament for a discussion on the situation of hunger.
  • The central government should immediately issue strict notifications clarifying that no person shall be denied any welfare services for the lack or failure of Aadhaar or biometric identification.
  • Criminal proceedings against all persons responsible for starvation deaths. 
  • The central government should review the status of distribution of AAY cards and ensure that all states have fulfilled their allocated number of AAY cards.
  • Inclusion of subsidised pulses and edible oil in the Public Distribution System. 
  • Universalization of the Public Distribution System and social security pensions.
  • Strict implementation of all social and economic legislations and Supreme Court orders. 
  • Activating the grievance redress system provisions of the National Food Security Act. Appointment of State Food Commissions, District Grievance Redressal Officers and Vigilance Committees in all states, districts, blocks and fair-price shops.
  • Antyodaya ration card for all single women and Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. 
  • Reject any proposals for replacing the food and nutrition supplementation through schemes such as PDS, ICDS and school mid-day meals with cash transfers.
  • Demand that the maternity entitlements given under the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana are fully in sync with the spirit of the NFSA the amount must be at least Rs. 6000 and there should not be any conditionalities imposed for getting benefit.
  • State level social audits must be conducted regularly.
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*Click HERE for the list of hunger-related deaths in 2014-18

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