Posts filed under ‘Poverty and hunger’

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

Following is a report from 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

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

Tribals from western Orissa protest others usurping their jobs, benefits

Following is a report by IANS published in

January 29, 2010 at 8:04 pm Leave a comment

Farmers committing suicide due to crop failure in western Orissa, Govt refuses

Following is a report from

KABARAPALLI(ORISSA): Very few will buy Orissa government frequently denying farmers in the state committing suicide due to debt and crop loss if one visits Kabarapalli village under Jujumura block, nearly 25 km from here.

Gangadhar Mirdha, a 50-year-old farmer who owned three acres of irrigated land, committed suicide on December 31 as he suffered crop loss due to lack of water and pest attack. His naïve and shocked son Kshamanidh Mirdha made it clear that his father was under stress for quite some time as he saw no return of his investment on the paddy crop this year.

“Before taking the extreme step, my father – while dining with family members – used to ask us; – ‘How can we survive this year as there is no crop in the field? How can we repay the debts?”

Gangadhar had borrowed Rs 15,000 from Punjab National Bank for buying a pump-set and Rs 25,000 from the local Ghenupali Cooperative Society. Although he was not served any notice by the bank or the cooperative society to repay the loan, he was worried that he would earn a bad name and his image would be tarnished for defaulting payment of the loans.

“In our locality, people value self-esteem. They feel burdened if they have a debt burden as less as Rs 1000. Perhaps, Gangadhar apprehended he would be served debt recovery notice for which he took such a drastic step,” local market yard president Dilip Kumar Bhadei said.

Lalit Kumar Bhoi, secretary of the market yard, said although he got 140 bags of paddy last year, he harvested only 65 bags this season because of crop loss due to pest attack and scanty rainfall.

“My investment in paddy crop went in vain this year. Although farmers like me feel totally disappointed and shattered, we console ourselves since we know how to fight with life. But farmers like Gangadhar need bailout packages by the state government to sustain themselves,” Mr Bhoi said.

He added that despite the local farmers being given Silver Card and Gold Card as a mark of identities, they have not yet received crop loss compensation or insurance benefits as announced by the state government.

Sambalpur district collector, Mr Hemant Kumar Das, however, refuses to acknowledge Gangadhar’s suicide as fallout of crop loss and subsequent depression.

“Investigation by the district administration revealed that Gangadhar – under the influence of liquor – had a quarrel with his wife the previous night. That was the reasons for his death by consuming pesticide,” Mr Das said.

Gangadhar’s wife Bijli Mirdha dismisses the collector’s version. “He was very simple. He was also very affectionate and loved each member of the family. The government is trying to malign the image of my husband even after his death,” she says.

Over 40 farmers, most of them from western Orissa, have committed suicide in the last two months because of crop failure due to erratic rainfall and attack by caterpillars. Still worse is the fact that the government refuses to admit even a single farmer suicide denying them the much needed support.

January 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm 1 comment

Poverty is reducing in Kalahandi, Balangir and Koraput district

Following is a report from The Samaja:

January 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

Bihar ahead of Odisha in economic growth

Following is a report from The Pioneer:

Even though Odisha boasts of the fact that it has been able to attract huge investments to the tune of Rs 5 lakh crore to the State in various fields including that of steel and mines, it is still lagging behind in economic growth than that of Bihar, once considered a poor and unruly State. But Bihar has changed its destiny and has been able to march ahead on the economic front in comparison to other States including that of BJD ruled Odisha.

In the last five year period between 2004-05 and 2008-09, while the growth rate of the Bihar was 11.03 per cent, the inclusive growth rate of Odisa was 8.74 per cent.

If one compares Odisha to that of Bihar, Odisha is more rich in minerals than Bihar which was worst affected by the floods in the Koshi which wrecked havoc in the State. The flood was also declared as a national calamity. Even though it is ruled by a non- Congress Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, it has been managed to raise its voice before Delhi and get necessary relief. Due to the effective utilisation of funds, the State has been able to march ahead in economic growth.

After huge investment assured to the State, it was predicted that Odisha would surpass all the States and come as number one but nothing has happened. Work at Posco’s steel project in Paradip, Tata’s project at Kalinga Nagar and Mittal’s project in Konjhar has yet to kick off. But officials pointed out that there was no need for any alarm. “Odisha’s economic growth is above the national average of 7 per cent growth,” said a senior official.

Meanwhile, the recent Planning Commission report has also stated that Odisha was the number one poor State in the country with as much as 57 per cent of the people living below the poverty line. In the last four months, around 40 farmers have committed suicide.

January 3, 2010 at 8:00 pm Leave a comment

Chief Minister’s relief fund and childcare unit of Sundargarh

Following is a report from The Samaja:

December 31, 2009 at 11:14 am Leave a comment

Poverty declined after reforms but still major challenge: PM

Following is a report by IANS published in TOI:

BHUBANESWAR: The economic reforms have helped in reducing poverty in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday, but admitted a lot more needed to be done as poverty remained a “major challenge”.

“There is no doubt in my view that poverty remains a major challenge. Our poor are still too poor and we need to do much more to improve their standard of living,” he said, in his address at the 92nd annual conference of the Indian Economic Association here.

“The economy has to grow fast enough to create new job opportunities at a rate faster than the growth of labour force,” he said, supporting high growth rate for reduction of poverty and stressing on “inclusive growth” as brought out in the Eleventh Five Year Plan.

For inclusive growth the prime minister suggested that the country must pay greater attention to sectors like education, health and rural development.

“We need to pay greater attention to education, healthcare and rural development focusing particularly on the needs of the poor – scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities,” he said and also urged efficient and economic use of scarce natural resources like land and water.

“Special attention has to be paid in increasing agricultural productivity-particularly of small and marginal farmers,” he added.

The prime minister, however, denied that the economic reforms had adversely affected the poor. “There is no evidence that the new economic policies have had an adverse effect on the poor,” the prime minister said.

“It is true that the rate of decline has not been as it should have been,” he said adding that the economic reforms have rather helped in bringing down the number of people living below poverty line.

“Ideally facts are quite clear. The percentage (of people) below poverty line has not increased. In fact, the population below poverty line has declined after economic reforms, at least at the same rate as it was before.”

“Some economists argued that the poverty line should have been bridged. That means the percentage in poverty is obviously high. That does not mean that the percentage below the poverty line is not declining,” the prime minister said.

He also stressed on making a conducive atmosphere of growth by improving governance. “Greater emphasis has to be laid on reforms in governance to reduce the scope for corruption,” he added. Manmohan Singh said the economy is likely to grow by seven percent or a little more in 2009-2010.

“The momentum was interrupted by the global economic crisis in 2008 and we slowed down to 6.7 percent in 2008-09 and are likely to achieve seven per cent or a little more in the current fiscal year,” he said.

The prime minister who arrived here Sunday on a brief visit also laid the foundation stone of the proposed campus of National Institute for Science Education and Research (NISER) near Jatni in Khordha district, about 25 km from here.

The union cabinet Sep 6, 2007 gave its approval for the institute at an estimated cost of Rs.823.19 crore and also creation of 761 posts in academic, scientific, technical, administrative and auxiliary categories for a seven-year plan.

NISER, operating under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), is currently conducting the five-year integrated masters in science programme in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics.

The first academic programme of the institute was inaugurated by state Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Sep 10, 2007.

Currently NISER is utilising the facilities of Institute of Physics at Bhubaneswar for functioning. The institute is an autonomous research institution funded jointly by the DAE and the Orissa government.

The state government has already allotted 300 acres of land for the NISER campus. After laying the foundation stone, Singh was to return to New Delhi, official sources said.

This is Manmohan Singh’s second visit to the state as prime minister. His first visit was in August 2006 during his first tenure. During that visit he had announced the establishment of NISER in the state.

December 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Government of Odisha is in Joy; People of Orissa are in Sorrow

Following is a report from The Samaja. Thanks to Kalahandia blog for the pointer.

December 26, 2009 at 6:22 pm 1 comment

Starvation kills 5 of a family in Balangir, Orissa, India

Following is a report from Times of India:
When Minzi Bariha (65) breathed her last on Thursday, she became the fifth member of her family to have died within the last three
months. Impoverished and emaciated, this poor tribal family in Khaparakhol block of Bolangir district in Orissa has lost one member after another allegedly due to starvation, malnutrition and diseases and thereby exposing the continued vulnerability of distressed people in the infamous Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput region to hunger and deprivation.

Minzi died in the district headquarters hospital in Bolangir after waging an unsuccessful battle for survival. Doctors who attended on her reported to have attributed her death to starvation, malnourishment and lack of healthcare. The latest deaths mean the family now has just two surviving members: Minzi’s husband Champeswar (72) and grandson Ramaprasad (7).

The dance of death, incidentally, started in the Bariha household, native of Chabiripalli hamlet under Bhanpur gram panchayat in the foothills of the mineral-rich Gandhamardan hill, on September 6. The first to perish was the youngest member of the family, a seven-month-old girl. The next day Sibaprasad (5) died. Two days later the kids’ mother Bimala, too, passed away.

The trio, according to those in the know, had succumbed to malnutrition and diseases from months of hunger. But the administration, for obvious reasons, refuses to admit that starvation had led to the deaths. On October 7, Bimala’s widower Jhintu, too, vomited blood and died.

The family’s finances had deteriorated after the prime breadearner lost a limb in an accident.

Following are some related articles:

December 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Five member from one family died of starvation in Balangir district

Following is a report from The Samaja:

December 18, 2009 at 5:03 pm Leave a comment

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