Kolkata: West Bengal registered its second starvation death in 2018, when 68-year-old Bimla Pandey, breathed her last in her small one-room mud hut in Tola-Lagam area of Panrua village of Purulia district, claimed a fact-finding team of social activists.
Bimla, who used to share the hut with her 43-year-old unmarried son Abir Pandey, earned their living by begging. But the duo had been unable to go out to beg for food due to incessant rain, and had starved to death on August 9.
Soon after news was highlighted, Bengal government officials claimed that Bimla had died of dysentery and not starved to death.
Contrary to the government version, a fact-finding report filed by the Right to Food (RTF) and Work Campaign, Bimla, had died of starvation and not dysentery.
Sharing the details of the case, Anuradha, a member of RTF informed, “In Bimla’s case, sadly, her caste went against her. Being from the upper caste she was unable to avail many of the government aid. This case is, thus a classic case, which asserts the need for the universality of the National Food Security Act.”
On being asked, what now? She added, “We will be adding this case to the on-going case at the Supreme Court of India, with regards to the 56 other hunger deaths that have occurred across India.”
The fact-finding report also maintained that there was a dearth of information as far as availing the benefits of the government schemes in the region is concerned. “Illiteracy and lack of awareness with regards to existing government policies, which could have easily helped Bimla’s son Abir to get a job, is also one of the reasons which actually led to her starvation death,” said Anuradha.
But government officials are firm on their stand, even after fact finding team report. Speaking to eNewsroom over the phone, Ujjwal Kumar Biswas, the newly recruited BDO of Jhalda, said, “The death had occurred much before I took on the charges of Jhalda. But from the official records that we have with us, it is very evident that the lady had died because of her ill health and not hunger.”
However the fact finding report clearly stated, “The deceased is a victim of negligence and improper implementation of NFSA, NREGA and pensions schemes. She was eating once or twice a day for a long time and was starving for a month or more. If surveys and Gram Sabhas had been done regularly and properly, then how did this family be deprived of its rights? The outreach of the administration to reach out to people who are in dire need of help seems totally inadequate.”
However, Biswas maintained, “It was dysentery and not hunger, which is responsible for her death. This lady was having dysentery and had been referred to be admitted at some other hospital in Purulia. But the family took her back to their home. Following which her condition got worse and she died. Things have changed over the years in Purulia. Now, we distribute enough food and have enough work under MNREGA for the poor. People are not starving in our state.”
Sunil Mahto, Nirman Sahayak of the Panchayat, speaking about Bimla’s death said, “We were not aware of their condition till the media reported their plight. Had we known about the same, we would have definitely helped the family.” On being asked if she had died of dysentery, he said, “The panchayat has no record stating that she died of dysentery.”
Bimla’s death is the second hunger death in the state in the year 2018. It registered its hunger death on March 24, when 63-year-old Surath Kumar Gayen of Bhatpara municipality committed suicide, stating that his disputed ration card was responsible for his death.
“We will send people to assist villagers to get their documentation and papers in place to avail the welfare scheme benefits,” added Anuradha.