“Alarming levels of food insecurity in Jharkhand causing hunger deaths,” economist, Jean Dreze

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Ranchi: At least 12 people have died from starvation in Jharkhand, but instead of taking action against functionaries whose lapses have led to these deaths and measures to improve the situation of food security in the state, Jharkhand government has been denying hunger as the cause of any of these deaths, claimed Right To Food activists at a press brief at Ranchi.

The RTF activists also claimed that the state government’s denial comes as a measure to absolve itself of any blame. State Food Minister, Saryu Roy, on the other hand has been making fallacious claims and accusations against activists highlighting the violations of right to food in Jharkhand.

The recent deaths of Savitri Devi in Giridh, Meena Musahar in Chatra and Chintaman Malhar in Ramgarh have again raised the issue Jharkhand government’s apathy towards alleged hunger deaths taking place since 10 months in the state.

Activists mentioned that even after a spate of deaths before these three victims, the government took negligible cognizance of the alarming situation.

A fact finding team was sent to each district, who met the families and presented the report.

Savitri Devi, a 60-year old widow, died on 2 June 2018 after prolonged hunger and inadequate nutrition. Her family members do not remember the last time they cooked dal. Their household does not have a ration card, despite having applied for one at the Gram Panchayat a few months ago. “This contradicts the government’s claim that Savitri Devi’s family did not apply for a ration card. Also, contrary to the claims made by the government, Savitri Devi was never admitted in RIMS Ranchi for treatment. Her widow pension was sanctioned in 2014 and surprisingly, the first pension instalment was credited only in April 2018 after her Aadhaar was linked with the scheme. She wasn’t even informed about the same,” Asharfi Nand Prasad, member of RTF, Jharkhand Chapter.

Similarly, 55-year old Chitaman of Mandu, Ramgarh lived a life of extreme deprivation and died a hungry man. He too did not have a ration card. “Here, instead of admitting the alarming situation of the family and its neighbours, government officials tricked Chintaman’s son into signing a statements that told a different tale. Not surprisingly, the Food Minister later claimed that the son himself admitted that his father died a natural death. His insensitivity towards the issue was also reflected when he suggested that the victim’s body be exhumed for post-mortem. He interpreted the son’s refusal for this as a proof that the victim did not die of starvation,” he added.

“The starvation deaths have exposed the exclusion of poor households from the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the alarming levels of food insecurity in the state, pointed out economist, Jean Dreze who also addressed the media on the occasion.

He mentioned further, “A highly effective measure of addressing these problems is the universalisation of the PDS in rural areas and inclusion of nutritious items in the PDS. The deaths have also raised questions on the coverage of the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) as most of these families, despite living a life of acute poverty, did not have AAY ration cards. Instead of initiating discussions on such moves, the Food Minister has proposed setting up of grain banks. Even if such banks are established, they will fail to ensure universal access to food security as a matter of right.”

The government’s indifference towards people’s food insecurity is also revealed by its foot-dragging in the withdrawal of the “Direct Benefit Transfer for food security” pilot in Nagri block of Ranchi. “However, the Food Department is yet to roll back this pilot or compensate ration cardholders who are denied their legal entitlement to subsidised foodgrain in this ill-conceived initiative. In fact, it has even failed to make public the findings of the government’s own social audit of this pilot,” added Prasad.

The Right to Food Campaign demanded immediate withdrawal of the “Direct Benefit Transfer for food security” pilot.  It also demanded the universalisation of the PDS in rural areas and inclusion of pulses and edible oil in the PDS – a promise made by the Food Minister himself, claimed the activists.

“The government should also immediately remove the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar from PDS – and all other public services – and strengthen the grievance redress system to be established under the National Food Security Act,” added Dreze.

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