New Delhi: Three recent starvation deaths in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have once against brought the inability of state governments to streamline the public distribution system even as unscrupulous officials and ration shop-owners continue to milk the system by siphoning off subsidised grains for the poor into sharp focus.
Siblings die of starvation in Buxar
Tragedy struck the house of Shiv Kumar Musahar – who belongs to the most backward ‘maha-Dalit’ class – in Koransarai village in the Dumrao block of Buxar district in Bihar when his five-year-old son Govinda died of starvation on August 31. The very next day, on September 1, his two-year-old daughter Munni also succumbed to hunger. Musahar, the lone earning member of the house, had been arrested along with 23 others a couple of months ago for his alleged involvement in a violent protest which had taken place in the area following a fatal accident.
With Musahar behind bars, his wife, mother and three children struggled to survive. His wife, Dhana Devi, told the local media that her main concern now as saving the life of her third child, six-year-old Arjun, who too has grown very weak.
Ration card was discontinued as family could not link it to Aadhaar
Devi said the family earlier had a ration card but since they could not get an Aadhaar card made, they were unable to access rations for the last eight months. Initially, neighbours helped the family with food but they too had their own limitations. So Musahar’s family stopped asking for assistance. For days on end thereafter, the family went without food. This led to death of the two children.
The inability to link ration cards to Aadhaar has been a major reason behind similar starvation deaths reported from other parts of the country as well. In the adjoining state of Jharkhand alone, there have been over a dozen such deaths in the past year.
Eight-year-old succumbs to hunger in Hathras
In another tragic incident, an eight-year-old girl, whose father had been jobless for the last two months, succumbed to hunger on September 10 in Vedai village in Sadabad block of Hathras in Uttar Pradesh. The family had been forced to go without food for the past week.
The girl, Khushi, resided in a tin shed along with her parents and four sisters. Her father Bhuri Singh worked as a labourer at a cold storage but had been without a job for the past couple of months. As the family ran out of money, it could not purchase any food. Though other residents of the village supported the family with rations, these proved grossly inadequate.
For the past week, the family members ate nothing. As a consequence, Khushi collapsed while sweeping the floor on Monday evening. Soon after, her younger sister Annu also fell unconscious. They were both taken to a local health centre from where they were referred to Agra, but Khushi died on the way. Annu has been admitting in a hospital where her condition too is stated to be critical.
Following Khushi’s death, the area sub divisional magistrate reached her residence along with the revenue officials to conduct a probe. The ration dealer was later made to provide oil, vegetables, wheat flour and other essentials to the family.
No ration card, or land to farm
The family members told the officials that they did not possess a ration card and neither possessed any land which they could farm.
A close relative of the family claimed that though it was a clear case of starvation and this was the reason rations had also been provided to the family, the local administration was trying to pass it of as a case of the girls dying due to high fever.
The discomfiture of the Yogi Adityanath government in the state due to this starvation death is understandable in light of the Rs 30 crore PDS scam in which the Aadhaar numbers of genuine beneficiaries had been replaced by fake ones.
Just yesterday, retailers accused of siphoning of over 2.2 lakh tonnes of foodgrains under the scam moved the Allahabad high court alleging the involvement of government food inspectors.