New Delhi: With a 39-year-old man dying of “poor nutrition and illness” on July 24, the death toll due to suspected starvation or malnutrition – exacerbated due to denial of ration for lack of Aadhaar linkage – in Jharkhand has gone up to 13 within just nine months.
In the latest incident, Rajendra Birhor, a resident of Chainpur in Mandu block of Ramgarh district who belonged to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), died due to poor nutrition and illness and it has been revealed that his family had been excluded from the Public Distribution System as the members did not possess Aadhaar cards.
According to a fact finding team of members of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, the Right to Food Initiative – Human Rights Law Network, Birhor’s family had not been issued a ration card under the National Food Security Act, 2013. A statement issued by these civil rights groups quoted the Block Development Officer as saying that the the family was excluded from PDS as it did not posses an Aadhaar.
‘Supreme Court orders on rations to PVTGs violated’
The rights campaigners said while there are clear orders from the Supreme Court, that PVTGs – which include Birhors – are entitled to 35 kg of foodgrain every month on an Antyodaya Anna Yojana ration card, the block officials claimed ignorance about it and insisted that Aadhaar was mandatory for delivery of rations.
Further, they said, Jharkhand’s PVTG households are also supposed to get foodgrains free of cost at their doorstep but the death of Rajendra Birhor has clearly exposed how this food security programme has not been implemented in letter and spirit.
On what caused a decline in Rajendra Birhor’s health, the fact finding team said he had stopped working about a year ago due to extreme weakness. “His wife managed to find work for only two or three days a week. Due to the sharp fall in the family’s income over the past year, the husband, wife and their six children routinely ate less food than their body needed.”
As to why the family was also not in receipt of any government aid, the fact finding team reported that it had last worked under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in 2010-11. Despite its poor financial condition, the family had not been receiving state social security pension of Rs 600 a month for PVTG households. In fact, the team said the BDO was not even aware of this scheme.
Birhor also suffered due to medical neglect
The report also pointed out that when about a month and a half ago, Rajendra Birhor fell seriously ill and was taken to the Community Health Centre (CHC) in Mandu. As doctors are unavailable at the local Primary Health Centre, the doctor at the CHC had referred him to Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) at Ranchi. “The doctor we met was unable to explain why simple procedures such as blood and urine tests were not conducted at the medical facilities in Mandu or Ramgarh,” the fact-finding team said.
Further, the team said no medicine was prescribed to Birhor at the CHC. As his family was unable to take him to RIMS, they brought him back home. The family then paid Rs 3,000 to a local doctor for his treatment, for which they had to sell a pig. However, despite it being a clear case of medical neglect, the doctor at the CHC accused the local Sahiya or ASHA worker for not following up on Birhor’s health.
Mandu block had also witnessed a starvation death a month back
The food rights campaigners said Mandu block had also witnessed a starvation death on June 14 when Chitaman Malhar had died of hunger. Investigations in his case, they claimed, had revealed that none of the families in the locality – Malhar Toli of Kundariya Basti – had a ration card. When the fact finding team visited Malhar Toli on July 26, it learnt that no household in the locality had received a ration card or its foodgrain entitlement under the National Food Security Act.
The fact-finding team said Malhar’s death had been preceded by 11 starvation deaths in Jharkhand within a span of just nine months. “In at least seven of these deaths, Aadhaar-related failures clearly contributed to starvation. The government has taken no note of the demand for a universal Public Distribution System with inclusion of nutritious items such as pulses and edible oil and the delinking of welfare programmes with Aadhaar,” the group said.