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Dec 19, 2011 | Political

INDIA: Death due to starvation

Dear Mr. Naveen Patnaik,
I am writing to express outrage that the Puri administration merely provided 30 kilograms of rice and 2,000 rupees for the children whose parents faced hunger, illness and energy deficiency at the time of their deaths. I have learned that in its letter responding to the case, the administration emphasizes that the children's mother died of cancer, without examining its own failure in implementing the available government schemes aimed at preventing starvation deaths and malnutrition.

The administration√Ęs response in dealing with this poor tribal family leads me to conclude that it is apathetic in fighting hunger and malnutrition, which is apparently a major concern of the Government of India, who is attempting to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The complete negligence of administration officials however, as in this case, is the primary reason for India failing to do so.

In the case of Mr. Babaji and his wife Sanjukta who died in two months, despite earlier complaints to the administration, no action was taken to help the family. Babaji died of hard labor and energy deficiency caused by hunger while taking care of his sick wife and children, to which the administration never responded. Even after Sanjukta died, the administration visited the children only after another complaint was sent to them, and provided 30 kilograms of rice and 2000 rupees for emergency purposes.

I am aware that the Union government as well as the state governments set up administrative and legal mechanisms to ensure freedom from hunger and to prevent death caused by starvation and malnutrition. This case proves that poor tribals do not enjoy these mechanisms, with the administration even denying that they suffer from hunger.

Rice distribution by the Public Food Distribution Scheme is not the only policy to ensure food security of the poor in India. It is just one government subsidy to provide staple food items such as rice or wheat at a cheaper price for the poor in India. To realize the right to food for all, especially the poor, the government built up policies at various levels, including public health, nutrition for the child under age of five and women, different pension schemes for vulnerable groups like widow, elderly etc., and employment schemes. Thus when poor families like Babaji's face hunger and a lack of resources, the administration is supposed to provide all in time, to protect them from hunger or malnutrition and other associated sicknesses. Unfortunately, none of these policies reached Babaji's family but for 30 kilograms of rice a month.

Yet, the administration still insisted that the family, the deceased in particular, did not suffer from lack of food and hunger when Babaji was dying of hunger and energy deficiency, and when Sanjukta was dying of cancer and lack of food. While the administration kept their eyes away from the family, Babaji and his eldest son were the ones who struggled to get food for the family.

A series of hunger cases reported by the AHRC, media and civil society highly concerned about the poor families dying of hunger in Odisha indicate clearly that the district administration as well as the state government continuously denies that the poor die of hunger due to non-implementation of relevant laws and policies. As seen in this case, the administration did not even look into its duty to prevent starvation deaths and ensure freedom from hunger. The letter from the administration merely says that 'I conclude that Mrs. Sanjukta Sethi died on 05/11/2011 due to CANCER after prolonged treatment.

In addition, I am also aware that the administration wrote a letter on behalf of the deceased's brother, saying that he would look after the two children, even though he is also extremely poor and has his own children to look after. This is a poor attempt at imposing its own duty upon someone else.

I firmly believe the administration should not escape its obligations and should provide all available facilities for the children at present. The administration should not deny its failure in implementing laws and policies and enjoy impunity. They should be aware that their negligence has been contributing to India having the highest number of child malnutrition and starvation deaths in Asia. I am further of the opinion that the duty of the administration is not to provide 30 kilograms of rice and 2000 rupees, which is not even sufficient for emergency, after people die of hunger and sicknesses, but to prevent death and hunger among the poor in the country.

I therefore urge you to intervene in this particular case, punishing those responsible for negligence, as well as seek ways to prevent deaths and ensure freedom from hunger in the future.

I look forward to your immediate and proper response to this case.

Yours sincerely,
William Nicholas Gomes
William's Desk

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