The popular impression is that starvation deaths happen mainly because the information about potential victims fails to reach authorities. But can it amount to murder if a starvation
death is caused despite adequate warning? A recent Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report tells us a story of corruption and negligence leading to starvation and death in Odisha. Worse still is the fact that many more villagers await the same fate under the same dismal circumstances.
The AHRC said Laxman Jagat, a resident of Kuliadongri village Karanbaheli Panchayat, Sinapali block of Nuapada district, died of starvation and illness on November 25, 2011. The administration was strongly urged to take proper steps to provide rice and other services in accordance with laws and policies by the affected villagers as well as civil society.
According to the AHRC, the administration failed to provide food grains since July 2011 through the Public Distribution System (PDS)
. There has been no agricultural work due to drought through a year, yet the administration failed to create work for food in accordance with the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
While the poor in this drought-hit area found it extremely difficult to procure food, the administration seemed embroiled in corruption instead of implementing existing social security programs targeted at the poor, widows, and the elderly.
The AHRC eport says that while Laxman was in serious condition the villagers made several complaints to the administration demanding immediate distribution of rice in their village. It is shocking that no action was taken despite the fact that the irregularities were reported to many high-level officers including the Block Development Officer (BDO) and the District Collector.
The AHRC report charges that the administration failed to respond to several complaints and it finally acted only after the villagers caught a truck carrying 62 bags of subsidised rice which the Marketing Inspector of the block and Executive Officer of Panchayat were allegedly smuggling out of the godown without the knowledge of the Panchayat head, allegedly to sell in the market. After a police complaint the executive officer was sent to jail.
Even after Laxman's death was reported, the administration provided rice for two villages and partially one village only, failing to fully implement relief in several other villages in all affected areas. More villagers, especially widows, children and the elderly, may face the same fate as Laxman because they too confront starvation under the same circumstances.
The government did not pay special attention to prevailing drought and rather enjoyed more corruption and negligence. Failure of rice distribution is not the only problem to be raised.
The overall social security system has collapsed due to the corrupt and mal-functional administration, the AHRC said.
An AHRC report in December also brought out a similar story of administrative apathy with regard to four children of a family whose parents died due to hunger and sickness in late September and early November. Babaji Sethi, the children’s father, died of starvation and energy deficiency while struggling with hard labor, and their mother died of cancer while facing hunger without proper medical treatment after Babaji’s death.
AHRC is spearheading a write-a-letter-to-CM campaign to bring his Government’s failure to his and his administration’s attention. The saddest thing about the above case is that the victim and his wife died of starvation despite having an AAY (Antyodya Anna Yojana) card given to the poorest of poor who are entitled to free food and host of other services including free medical aid.
(Please see the following links to read about many more starvation and malnutrition deaths)http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAC-001-2012 http://www.humanrights.asia/news/hunger-alerts/AHRC-HAU-003-2011 http://www.im4change.org/news-alert/ahrc-28-children-die-o
Too little, too late by Harsh Mander, The Hindustan Times, 25 December, 2011, http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/ColumnsOthers/Too-
Let there be no starvation deaths: Supreme Court, The Hindu, 15 September, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/article24
Starvation line? Govt firm on poverty limit by Basant Kumar Mohanty, The Telegraph, 30 May, 2011, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110530/jsp/nation/story_140
Court on starvation deaths: ‘there cannot be two Indias' by J Venkatesan, The Hindu, 21 April, 2011, http://www.hindu.com/2011/04/21/stories/2011042165341400.htm
There can't be two Indias: Supreme Court by Dhananjay Mahapatra, The Times of India, 21 April, 2011, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/There-cant-be-two