Posts filed under ‘Starvation deaths’

Drought fear in Subarnapur district

Following is a report from Oriya daily the Samaj:

September 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm Leave a comment

Sam Pitroda’s new mission to make India hunger-proof and food-reliant

Following is a report by IANS published in http://www.deccanherald.com:

Knowledge and telecommunication evangelist Sam Pitroda, currently advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, is on a new mission – to make India hunger-proof and food-reliant.

He is working on a draft to set a countrywide network of private food banks – resource pools he calls them – that will work as a parallel distribution system to disburse food and allied infrastructure to people living on the edge of the poverty line and below in the vast Indian heartland. Pitroda will put his project, India Food Bank, in place by the yearend with the help of a Chicago-based international organisation, Global Foodbanking Network, a Stanford University think-tank that provides food aid to 30 nations.

Statistics narrate a grim tale of hunger in India, a country of 1.2 billion that is home to 27 per cent of the world’s hungry populace with one of the largest populations of malnourished children. Rough estimates by the Action Aid, a global anti-poverty organisation, cite that nearly 212 million people suffer from chronic hunger and undernourishment in India.

The United Nations World Food Programme paints a more alarming picture saying nearly 350 million of India’s population – roughly 35 per cent – is considered food insecure, consuming less than 80 per cent of the total energy requirements. “I identify with the problem because I was born in a large family in Kalahandi in the Bolangir district of Orissa that is ravaged by hunger and is prone to drought,” he said at an interface on his new project in the capital hosted by Aspen Institute-India.

“Three years ago, I took up the issue with a group of food activists at the Global Foodbanking Network in Chicago, the global capital of commodity trading. I told them why can’t we go to India and explore the dimension of hunger and malnutrition that can affect the future of India. More than 212 million people face paucity of food (hunger) in India.”

“We have a friend in Chicago, John Kapoor, who has made a lot of money. He sponsored a fact-finding team to India that conducted a feasibility study of the project in four underdeveloped states to find out whether it was possible to engage local communities, ensure community participation and create a network of stake-holders who could source essential food and related infrastructure for voluntary donation and distribution under an alternative food chain like the sub-Saharan models.”

Pitroda, who left for the US on Saturday, said he would return in July to “socialise the idea in the country with necessary modification for implementation by the end of the year”. “The government has several food programmes but can we really organise these programmes effectively,” he argued in justification of his “food bank project”.

Commenting on the necessity of food banks to ensure “sustained food security in India”, he said “while populations grow, food resources are continuously shrinking”. “Coupled with natural phenomenon like climate change and global warming, the security of food and other resources is a worrying question. One answer is the concept of food bank,” he said.

The Global Foodbanking Network, founded by Red Argentina de Bancos de Alimentos (Argentina), Food Banks Canada, Asociación Mexicana de Bancos de Alimentos (Mexico) and Feeding America (United States), shares food banking concepts and helps partners evaluate the feasibility and most effective business model for implementation in their country.

The organisation was founded in 2006 by four of the world’s leading national food bank networks. Its objective “is to fulfil the vision of John Van Hengel, who founded the world’s first food bank in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1967 and worked to promote and establish food banking around the world”. The latest World Food Programme report warns that more than 1.5 million children in India may suffer from malnourishment because of spiralling global food prices and 43 per cent of children under five years of age are underweight.

The report says the proportion of anaemic children has increased by six percent in the last six years with 11 states reporting 80 percent child anaemia. Figures say one in five people – about 45 per cent of Indian children – in developing countries are chronically “undernourished”. Food prices have increased by 83 percent in the last two years and 22 countries have enshrined the right to food in their Constitutions.

May 31, 2010 at 4:06 pm 1 comment

Balangir MP demand 8-year Kalahandi, Balangir and Koraput (KBK) plan’s early approval

Following report is from The Pioneer:

Balangir MP Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo has demanded early approval of the eight-year, 2009-10 to 2016-17, perspective plan of Rs 4,500 crore for Kalahandi, Balangir and Koraput (KBK) region, submitted to the Central Government by the State.

Participating in the Zero Hour discussion in the Parliament on Wednesday, MP Singh Deo raised the matter saying even today the region has many adverse human development indicators and is one of the most backward regions in the country.

A study by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has listed the eight KBK districts at the bottom of 69 most backwards districts, Singh Deo further argued.

The implementation of the revised long term action plan since1998-99 has resulted in a whopping 24.65 per cent decline in poverty from 87.1 per cent in 1999-2000 to 62.5 per cent.

With a view to sustaining the development and consolidating the gains of previous efforts, the Centre should approve soon the State-submitted perspective plan, Singh Deo demanded.

May 5, 2010 at 7:27 am Leave a comment

Readers’ reaction on an article published in Times of India about “Hunger deaths in Balangir district of Orissa”

Here is the link to the article and comments on it:

Readers’ opinions (3)

Post a Comment
shankar balangir 30/04/2010 at 11:00 pm
The politicians are solely responsible for this damn thing. these hell scoundrels hv done nothing except corrupting themslves. they dont fear God. and the hell political parties always work for own profit. people are lazy. go do some work instead eating the sand of the river.
Satyajit Balangir 30/04/2010 at 06:26 pm
Bloody Orissa govt. busy in developing only 60 miles corridor of cuttack to puri and criminally neglecting western orissa for last 7 decades..particularly Balangir..God will definitely punish these asshole politicians for deliberately killing these innocent people..Request NGO’s 2 plz help my people
Vighnesh Bhubaneswar 30/04/2010 at 06:23 pm
When will the administration do something….ironically the ruling party was busy organising a Bandh…??

May 3, 2010 at 6:24 pm 1 comment

How hunger kills hundreds in Balangir

Following is a TOI report:
BALANGIR: Enter any village under Belpada block of Balangir district and see how people battle for their existence. And how hunger can kill hundreds. Starving and emaciated, villagers often succumb to their circumstances.

The scenes in these villages will leave anyone speechless. Barring a few who own land, most villagers depend on nature. They collect forest produce for their sustenance.

TOI visited Bileimara village, 17 km from the block headquarters and met Bhaktaram Bariha, who is 65. For the past 10 years he has been bed-ridden. His spouse had died of some mysterious disease years ago. What is most pitiable is that he was forced to marry off his two daughters to the same man.

His son-in-law had promised to look after him and so Bariha gave away his second daughter, too, in marriage to this man. Today, all four stay together, the daughters look after the father and husband. Bariha does not get old age pension. Neither does he hold any entitlement card which can buy him subsidized rice at Rs two a kg.

Early morning all of them, barring Bariha, go to the forest to collect char, seeds and mahua flowers. They return home by evening. During their absence, Bariha’s granddaughter Srimati, who is five, looks after him. “I can’t remember any government official visiting this village. I was just a kid when someone came here and talked to some villagers and then vanished. We are fed up requesting the sarpanch to give us a BPL card or an IAY house. Every time he tells us that some procedure has to be followed and then the matter is forgotten,” said his daughter.

Sometime back, he developed a swelling on his neck. He sent his son to the nearby PHC to call a doctor, but he did not come. Finally, his son-in-law called a quack, whose medicines worsened his condition.

The life of Khatra Bariha, 65, of Rengtasil village, mirrors the despondency of his village. He lost his wife after two months of their marriage. A few years later, he lost his two sisters. He had lost his parents when he was young. A stark example of peripatetic life, Khatra constructed a thatched house on the outskirts of the village.

The house is closed from all sides. Every time he goes to the village to fetch water and other essential items, he breaks the thatched wall and then reshapes it. His only possessions are perhaps two bowls and some clothes. Khatra said he asked the sarpanch to get him a BPL card, but the sarpanch asked to him to prove his identity. He collects forest produce and exchanges them in village shops for rice and other items!

Bariha and Khatra are just metaphors of a larger canvas. For these 800-odd poverty-stricken villagers, the forest is a source of sustenance. Adhikar, a voluntary organization, has submitted a list to the government giving names of villagers who are living in this pathetic condition. But there has been no action yet. Jatin Patra, who surveyed the areas and prepared the list, said there’s been no development in the villages in the past 20 years. “Except improving the condition of some roads, there’s been no visible development,” he said.

Five of a family recently died of hunger in Chabripali village under Khaprakhol block. But even this painful incident failed to move the administration.

May 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

Breakdown in Balangir:families continues to suffer from hunger and poverty

Following is a report from http://www.hindustantimes.com and Print Edition:

As one of India’s 300 million officially poor people in one of its most impoverished districts, Kantamani Nag bought 25 kg of rice every month at Rs 2 per kg — five times cheaper than market rates — a fine example of the world’s most sprawling subsidised-foodgrain network.

Of the sprawling cradle-to-grave national anti-poverty effort on which the Centre will spend more than Rs 1.18 lakh crore in 2010-11 to create a more inclusive, just India, only the Public Distribution System worked for the Nags — sort of.

Nag (40) kept half the rice for his wife and three children. He sold the rest, creating what is now unofficially called “subsidised-rice income” for the poorest in this western corner of Orissa, where the official poverty line is Rs 356 per month, or about the cost of an appetiser in a metropolitan five-star hotel. When Nag, wizened beyond his years, sold his subsidised rice (sometimes tea leaves and soap as well), it sent him into a death spiral that appears to play out like this across Balangir:

The rice that isn’t sold typically lasts 10 days or less. The family works odd jobs or begs rest of the month. Weakened without enough food, they fall ill for about 100 days each year. They borrow money to pay medical expenses. To repay the loan, they join the 100,000 who migrate to brick kilns and stone mines in Andhra Pradesh.

When they return, they are weaker; many die, not by starvation but from chronic hunger and malnutrition.

Nag’s family ended up working in the kilns and mines for six months every year. These trips took a toll on their weakened bodies. They took more loans to meet medical expenses. The last loan was Rs 20,000 at 10 per cent interest.

“After a time they found it difficult to repay,” said Kasturi Nag (42), Kantamani’s sister-in-law, who narrated their tale on a warm spring day in their western Orissa village of Kurenbahali. “As a result, they started eating less food.”

Growing, gnawing hunger

Breakfast for the Nags was a handful of puffed rice and tea without milk. Lunch was pakhal, watery rice, with an onion.

Dinner wasn’t very different — on the few days the Nags had any.

Hindustan Times recorded similar patterns in journeys to 55 families in 27 villages in Balangir, where 62 per cent of all families officially live below the poverty line across 6,575 sq km, more than four times larger than the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

In interviews, many officials in Balangir confirmed that they were witnessing a deepening cycle of poverty.

It could explain how millions of hungry people are slipping through the cracks nationwide; how shoddy implementation imperils well-meaning, ambitious national anti-hunger programmes; how mothers become malnourished, giving birth to more malnourished children than anywhere else in the world.

Every year, 3,000 pregnant women are admitted to Balangir’s hospitals. “More than 50 per cent are anaemic, malnourished,” said Dr Purnachandra Sahu, Balangir’s chief district medical officer. Theoretically, help is available, through the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the world’s largest programme for nutritional and school needs of children younger than six, administered through 1.4 million centres nationwide.

Though 80 million children are theoretically covered, one in two Indian children is malnourished, the world’s worst rate.

In Balangir, there are free vitamins, proteins and medicine available.

The Nags appear to have used these centres at some point. The evidence: Their children are alive (though their condition isn’t clear). For severely malnourished children, there’s Rs 500 to be had from the Chief Minister’s relief fund.

Sahu opened registers of Nutrition Day — held on the 15th of each month to provide dietary support to children — to show how about 3,000 malnourished children under age six are brought to Balangir’s 14 primary health centres every month. Sahu said 53 per cent of all children at his centres are malnourished.

In 2009, official ICDS figures say 87 children, or 0.04 per cent suffered the most severe malnourishment, grade IV, which means they needed urgent medical attention.

“The children are malnourished because in most cases the mothers are malnourished,” said Pratibha Mohanty, Balangir district’s social welfare officer.

The death rate of children under six is worsening. In 2006, 48 children died in every 1,000, rising to 52 the next two years; in 2009 it was 51, according to district health records. Balangir’s cycle of poverty continues into adulthood.

Most patients who come to Balangir hospitals today are anaemic, have gastrointestinal infections or are directly malnourished, according to district health records.

Stopping migration would certainly help already weak villagers. Theoretically, the Nags need not have migrated.

The world’s largest jobs-for-work programme, the National Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), is supposed to help people like them, assuring them 100 days of employment every year. The national NREGS budget for 2010-11: Rs 40,000 crore, more than a third the size of the defence budget.

Here in Kurenbahali, there were no NREGS jobs in 2009. Thus far, there’s no sign of work this year either. “People would not migrate if NREGS works are done regularly through the year,” said Paleswar Bhoi (35), a villager.

Slippery statistics

Instead of the required 100 days, Orissa has provided no more than 35 days of work each year. Across most of Balangir’s 1,792 villages, NREGS work isn’t available for a full month in a year, HT’s inquiries revealed.

Sanjay Kumar Habada, project director for the district rural development agency, has another set of figures to share: NREGS projects across Balangir employ more than 30,000 people, whom the administration pays “We pay them Rs 30 lakh every day,” said Habada. It isn’t much use to the poorest.

Of the 240,000 people registered under the NREGS in Balangir, only 476 (0.2 per cent) live below the poverty line, according to the website of the Union Ministry for Rural Development.

Like a number of Balangir villagers dying in their 30s and 40s — the exact numbers are uncertain — Nag died in February 2008, officially of fever. His wife Kulbati (32) lived for 18 months more before dying of tuberculosis.

The statistics will not record the chronic hunger or malnourishment that possibly made the Nags susceptible to disease.

Officially, they died natural deaths.

Theoretically, the Nags’ children should, even at this stage, have been able to claim help from the state.

When the sole earning member dies, the family is eligible for Rs 10,000 under the National Family Benefit Scheme, created after a Supreme Court order.

The grant is supposed to be paid within four weeks of death: More than 15,000 applications are pending with the Balangir district administration “over years”.

No one can say how many years.

Nag’s sister-in-law, Kasturi, has never heard of such a scheme.

“I gather that many people fail to provide death certificates,” said Balangir Collector Sailendra Dey. “I have instructed officials to help people in submitting the death certificates so that the amount can be disbursed to the beneficiaries.”

Local lawyer Bishnu Prasad Sharma said the grant needed only an authorisation from a local ward member or sarpanch.

Bisnu Sahu, a naib sarpanch (village headman), said he never knew he had such authority. “No one ever told me,” he said.

The district collector, the chief administrative official, implied this was indeed the case. “I have asked officials to make people aware of the scheme,” Dey said.

Back near the Nags’ abandoned hut, Kasturi explained why a severe pain in her leg didn’t allow her to join her husband, son and daughter-in-law in the desperate migration south.

Where are the surviving Nags, the two daughters and a son, aged between  seven and 16? Gone, said Kasturi, to that brick kiln in Andhra Pradesh.

For another generation, Balangir’s death cycle has started.

(The Hunger Project is a Hindustan Times effort to track, investigate and report every aspect of the struggle to rid India of hunger. You can read previous stories in this series at www.hindustantimes.com/hungerproject)

March 29, 2010 at 12:56 pm Leave a comment

Balangir’s Bariha family starvation deaths: Tribal leaders demand action against officials

Following is a report from The Pioneer:

Hundreds of tribal’s of Balangir, Kalahandi, Sonepur, Boudh and other nearby districts, led by tribal leaders of Balangir Zilla Adivasi Kalyan Sangha Brajakishore Singhbhoi, Niranja Bisi and others, once again marched through the town on Thursday.

The tribals danced and brandished their traditional arms demanding redressal of their grievances. The tribal’s submitted a memorandum to the Governor through the district administration. Besides, the fake certificates issue, this time, another issue that come to fore, was the demand for action against the officials who were responsible for the alleged starvation death of five members of Jhintu Bariha family in Chabirpaili village of Khaprakhol block recently

According to the memorandum submitted by Zilla Adivasi Kalyan Sangh, the officials responsible for starvation deaths of five members of Jhintu Barih family should be booked under SC, ST Prevention of Atrocity Rules 1995.

Rejecting the constitution of the State-level scrutiny committee and Vigilance cell opened to inquire into the fake caste certificate issue, all fake caste certificates should be cancelled as per the Orissa Caste Certificate for SC, ST Rule1980.

More over all those fake tribal employees’ political representatives and students, should be booked under Section 3 of the prevention of atrocity for SC/ST Act 1989, they demanded.

The stay order granted in favour of fake tribal employees by the Odisha High Court may be vacated and the court may be approached to finalise the case with in two months as per the decision of Supreme Court, pointed out the memorandum further.

Moreover the non ST persons possessing title Dora who belongs to the caste Telenga which is recognised by Government of Odisha vide resolution no 26118ORC1/96W as ST are non ST and those fraudulently obtained certificate of Kondadora(ST) should be cancelled

Similarly, those persons belonging to caste Kului noni ST, procuring the Schedule Tribe certificate in disguise by false pretension of Kulis(ST). All the ST certificates issued in favour of KULI castes should be cancelled as per the letter issued by Government of India.

While other communities are allowed to carry arms why tribals would be barred from carrying it, they questioned. Tribals are different people who have their own tradition, custom and culture any attempt to interfere there would not be tolerated, said Niranjan Bisi Secretary of Zilla Adivasi Kalyan Sangh. The Sikhya Sahayaks posts should be filled up from among the candidates of the district, mentions the memorandum further.

January 29, 2010 at 9:29 pm 1 comment

Odisha govt. benefits still elude Jhintu Bariha’s Chhabripali village in Balangir district

Following is a report from The Pioneer:

Even though it has already been more than three months since the death of Jhintu Bariha and his family members of Chhabripali under Khaprakhol block due to alleged starvation, politicians visiting the village are surprised to find that the condition of the village is yet to improve and the villagers are languishing in a sorry state.

Closely after the visit of Odisha Kisan Khet Mazdoor Congress president Amiya Patnaik to Chhabripali village in the first week of January, president of State Mahila Congress Asima Mahananda visited the village.

It is unfortunate that five members of the Jhintu Bariha family died of starvation, she told mediapersons on the evening of January 20 after visiting the village. The district administration after remaining active for 24 hours seems to have come to a standstill here, she alleged further. Even today Champe Bariah, the old father of Jhintu Bariah, is without a house. He should be given a house under the Indira Awas Yojana, she urged.

Moreover the lone surviving member of the family, Ramprasad Bariha’s condition is also not satisfactory. I would take up his case with Achyuta Samanta of Kalinga Institute of Social Service (KISS) and see that he is enrolled there, she said further.

Even today many women are suffering from anemic conditions. Ambika Bariaha who has given birth to a child is unable to feed his one-and-a-half month old child as she is suffering from anemia. The Asha Karmee is not functioning there properly, she alleged further. Another woman Khitisuta Bariha also died three months after giving birth to a child.

Even today, while as many as 40 villagers are waiting to be included in the APL list, 70 villagers are awaiting BPL list and as many as 70 women are waiting to be enrolled for widow pension, she claimed further. The village level workers (VLW) are not functioning properly and they are misbehaving the poor villagers, she alleged.

Most of the Central Government programmes like NREGS and Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana are not reaching them as lack of electricity and delay in payment to labourers are common, she alleged further. The Mahila Congress will give ‘special attention’ to the village in order to ensure that benefits of the development reach the village properly, she assured. However she parried the question why the district Congress committee is almost silent on this issue and why it took almost a month for the State Congress leaders to visit the village.

January 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm 1 comment

Starvation deaths continue in Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput area of Orissa, India

Following is a report from http://www.indiatogether.org:

02 December 2009 – “What is your daily diet?” I asked Ramprasad, the seven-year-old son of Jhintu Bariha in Balangir district of Orissa. “I take mudhi (puffed rice) with black tea in the morning given by my grandparents; rice with either salt or with some wild spinach collected from the forest during noon.” I waited a while for him to tell me about dinner, but he did not continue, so I asked him again, “OK, then what do you take for dinner?” Still no answer.

Upon my innocent repetition of the question, Ramprasad began crying. Immediately I realised my mistake – I should have not repeatedly asked him the question. This child doesn’t get to eat anything for dinner.

Ramprasad is the only survivor among his siblings, in Buromal village of Bhanpur Panchayat. His father Jhintu had lost Siba Prasad, his 3-year-old son, Gundru, his 1-year-old daughter and Bimla, his 35-year-old wife Bimla one after another on 6, 7 and 9 September 2009 respectively. The local media initially reported these as starvation deaths, but eventually malaria was said and reported to be the cause of these deaths.

Jhintu (42) a tribal, was married to a hindu woman. After their wedding, due to oppostion from the community to his inter-community marriage, he preferred to move out of state with his family to work. Three years ago, when he was working in Madhya Pradesh as an agricultural labourer, he was eloctrocuted in an accident, and his left hand and left leg were partially paralysed. As a result, he was forced to return to Orissa. He is separated from his parental family and does not possess any agricultural land. He and his wife used to do minor agricultural work in the village and in surroundings to earn their livelihood, but this was hardly sufficient – there is very little work in and around.

This forced the family to again migrate, this time to work in the brick kilns in Andhra Pradesh last year. Jhintu, already too weak, fell drastically ill in Andhra and was brought back to the village in June this year. This time around, again back in village, it was very difficult for Jhintu to work as he was too ill, and Bimla also could not go out full time for work as she had their infant daughter to care for. As a result, the whole family was suffering from gross inadequacy of income and food.

Jhintu did not possess any PDS (Public Distribution System) card. The only help they received was a share of PDS rice (half of 25 kg of rice a month) from his elderly parents, some portion from his father’s old age pension (his mother is not getting her pension, though she is eligible) and some occasional help from the community in terms of food items. For a family of two adults and three children, this added up to a lot less than subsistence. Little wonder then, that three of them lost their lives.

But to what? Starvation or malaria?

The cause of deaths

Champi Bariha (80) and Bimpi Bariha (70), Jhintu’s parents say that since his family had been living on grossly inadequate food for a very prolonged period, their deaths are clearly the result of starvation. They admit that the children were ill and feverish just before their deaths, but insist that these were merely the final symptoms – they succumbed essentially to starvation. Jhintu Bariha, who was himself then admitted in the hospital and been treated for fever, also confirmed this. He said the family had been starving as they did not have adequate income nor had they been getting any government entitlements. Their gradually starvation led to the illnesses, culminating in death.

But district officials do not believe Jhintu’s children and wife died of starvation. The Collector-in-charge Sanjay Kumar Habada and the Block Development Officer Chandramani Seth say that Jhintu’s financial transactions with villagers indicate he would have had money to meet his food expenses. Moreover, just the day before the death of his wife, his parents had got their quota of 25 kg rice from the ration shop, so they must have had some food too available, say the officials. Some villagers too say the three died of malaria, and not starvation.

The State Advisor’s office attached to the Supreme Court Commission on Right to Food, in its report submitted to the Commission based on its fact-finding visit, writes “… food intake for the family of five may clearly give a picture of the severity of the vulnerable condition of the family. The inadequate food intake was taking a heavy toll on the health of the whole family which in turn was reducing their ability to work to earn. They were therefore caught in the vicious cycle of poverty and starvation.”

Bimpi, Jhintu’s aged mother has still a clear way of describing the starved situation of the family. “When the small two children would cry out of hunger, they would start sucking their mother’s breast, … but nothing would come out.” She says. “How can there be secretion of milk from the mother’s breast if the mother herself does not get enough food to eat?” she asks.

The doctors say the deaths were most likely the result of malaria. Firstly, it was found that there is a malaria epidemic in the village where out of a total of 370 people, almost a third (120) were found malaria positive after testing. Secondly, in case of Jhintu and his surviving elder son, who were taken to the district hospital by the administration as they were suffering from fever and loose motions, “they responded positively to anti-malaria doses, although they tested negative; this is clinical malaria” says Dr Balaram Panigrahi, a medical officer at the district hospital in Balangir.

A conspiracy?

Immediately after the media report of three starvation deaths, a mobile health unit was sent by the administration to camp in the village. This health unit tested and found 120 positive cases of malaria, and all of them were administered anti-malaria doses. However, doctors say that although this area is malaria-prone, there have not been any recent reports of malaria deaths. Moreover, the villagers don’t appear to show any post-malarial weaknesses.

The report sent by the advisor’s (Advisor to SC Commission) office observes that there were some influential people in the village trying to track the movement of the fact finding team, and the villagers were generally tight-lipped on this matter. However, some investigations and in-depth questioning of a few young people gave them a clue – that only five to six people had fever, but the doctors had administered many people anti-malaria doses anyway.

Bideshi Meher had no fever, but his blood was tested and he was given anti-malaria doses. “The doctors told me that malaria has spread, and I should take these medicines. If I do not take these I will have malaria.” says Bideshi. After taking anti-malarial pills, however, he fell ill. When he discontinued the medicine, he became normal. Santosh Meher, a young man in the village also did not have any fever but was given anti-malaria pills. The advisor’s office report writes ” … In order to cover up, the doctors have administered malaria doses to many who did not have any fever. This may be why the media initially reported it as a case of starvation death, but later … as malaria. The report suggests that further investigation is needed to establish the truth behind the “probable conspiracy”.

Amidst the controversy, Jhinu Bariha also breathed his last on 7 October 2009. After he was discharged from the district hospital (where has treated for fever during September), he came back to his village. On the fateful day, he began vomiting and was taken to the nearest hospital by the villagers. On the way he died.

Covering up starvation

The Supreme Court, in an interim order in October 2002 in PUCL vs. Union of India and Others fixed the responsibility on the Chief Secretary for any starvation death occurring in a state. Following the order, the Chief Secretary of Orissa despatched a letter in November 2002 to all the Collectors stating “… The responsibility of the Chief Secretary is the collective responsibility of the entire State administration of which the Collectors are the key functionaries.” By implication all the collectors along with the Chief Secretary will have to own responsibility for such cases.

With the government’s image at stake, the administration has been hostile to poverty and starvation reports, as documented in a number of cases. In 2002, for instance, NDTV and Star News reported the starvation death of two tribal children in Keonjhar district. A fact-finding team sent by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution reported otherwise.

It may be remembered that the government in the state at that time comprised of a coalition between the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the BJP, with the latter heading a larger coalition also including the BJD at the Centre. The politics in the country is not so mature where New Delhi ruled by one party will give a hostile report on a state ruled by the same party or is a coalition partner. Ironically, a national English weekly blasted the journalists for making sensational reports, and even went to the extent of making charges of bribery against the Star News reporter!

In another case, in 2005 it was reported by some electronic media that the people of Paharia, a vulnerable community in Nuapada district eat ‘soft stone’. In its response, the government filed a criminal case against a journalist and the regional electronic channel reporter was sacked from the television. In protest to the criminal case, the Orissa Journalists’ Union (OJU) staged a dharna to condemn the vindictive act of the government.

Starvation and the BPL list

Twenty two per cent of Orissa’s population are tribals, and another 16 per cent are dalits, both highly vulnerable communities. Therefore, proper mapping of BPL (Below Poverty Line) families is important, as it serves as the lifeline for many. But the BPL politics at the central level is skewed, and quotas are fixed for every state, regardless of the actual number of people who need to be protected. The has bearing on the Supreme Court’s orders to check starvation deaths.

In its 8th report submitted to the Supreme Court in 2008, the SC Commission on Right to Food headed by Dr N C Saxena and Harsh Mander observes “… we have found that interim order of 2nd May 2003 of the Supreme Court (that identified six vulnerable categories of people should be provided with AntoDaya Anna Yojana, AAY cards) is one of those least implemented by most state governments. We believe that there are three main reasons for this wide failure … the quotas for AAY in most states were already exhausted before the said 2003 order”. The report suggests that there should be exclusive court orders for covering these categories of people under AAY for two years irrespective of the quota limits. However, this recommendation has not cut much ice in government circles.

Interactions with many families in the Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region suggest that the ’25 kg of rice’ scheme by the state government which was universal in this region (given to those who possess a ration card irrespective of whether BPL or APL) served as lifeline for them. But in Orissa, the BPL list has not been updated since 1997 (2002 BPL survey was not made operational). This puts many deserving families in the region out of the loop, as so many families that have formed in the last twelve years have not got a card. The economists sitting in the Planning Commission, who fix the limit of food subsidy so also the state quotas, hardly take into account on how many families like Jhintu’s are made to starve due to its changed approach based on ‘economic rationalism’.

The expert committee appointed by Ministry of Rural Development and headed by N C Saxena has recommended a more inclusive methodology for conducting BPL surveys. According to the committee, the poverty level in Orissa is projected to be 84.5 per cent – as against 47 per cent in the 1997 survey. It is for the Centre to recognise this reality, and stop the tragic deaths of many others like Jhintu and his family.

Pradeep Baisakh
02 Dec 2009

Pradeep Baisakh is a freelance journalist based in Bhubaneswar.

January 3, 2010 at 8:14 pm 4 comments

Starvation still haunts Kalahandi and Balangir area of Orissa, India

BALANGIR: Poverty has been keeping date with the KBK region for 25 years. The journey began with Phanus Punji selling her sister-in-law Banita for Rs 40 in 1984 in Kalahandi and ended with claiming the latest victim, Minji Bariha in Balangir.

 In 25 years, many such harrowing stories hit the headlines, while many more went unreported. The embarrassment shifted from Kalahandi to neighbouring Balangir, where the trend began in 2001, at a time when poverty alleviation schemes were running rapidly. Unable to bear the pangs of hunger while some poor people sold their little ones, others kept waiting until the inevitable struck. Those cases, which were reported were looked into but soon faded out with the state government turning a deaf ear.

Sources said, like the reported hunger death of five members of Champe Bariha family of Chabripali village in Balangir in three months, was made a trifle issue, two similar incidents in 2001 were also sidelined.  

Severe drought then claimed 35-year-old woman Kar Bhoi of Badagumuda village. She died of hunger. Earlier, the death of a 30-year-old woman Premsila Bhoi in the same village caused an outcry in the Assembly with then local MLA Santosh Singh Saluja alleging that Bhoi and her three sons were without food for three days. Singh then also informed about starvation related death of five persons in Nuapara district and warned that there would be many.  

The death of Kar came at a time when Special Relief Commissioner HK Panda was investigating the alleged starvation death of Premsila Bhoi. Then too BJD-BJP coalition government led by Naveen Patnaik denied any starvation deaths in Balangir.  

Quoting a Supreme Court order, Raj Kishor Mishra, advisor, Supreme Court Right to Food Commission, said in an interim order SC in October 2002 fixed the responsibility on the Chief Secretary for any starvation deaths occurring in the State. He said following the order, the chief secretary then sent letters to collectors stating “The responsibility of the chief secretary is the collective responsibility of entire state administration of which the collectors are the key functionaries”.  

In 2002, Lalita Tandi of Kundabutla village under Bangomunda village died of starvation. Later, it was discovered that there was found food in her stomach during post-mortem and the case was pushed aside. Sanjaya Mishra, a researcher studying migration trend informed that in the last nine years 25 cases of starvation have been reported in Balangir alone of which seven have died and none has been accepted by the administration or government. He said there is also same number of incidents of child sale.

December 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm 1 comment

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