Ram Charan Munda, 65-year-old resident of Lurgumi Kalan in Jharkhand's Latehar district, reportedly died due to starvation after he was consistently denied ration under public distribution system. Munda is 20th victim of starvation in the state since September 2017. Reports suggest that Munda had not eaten in last four days and his family did not receive any grain through local ration distributor, as the point of sale machine was non-functional, owing to network issues. The villagers had petitioned for offline delivery. However, demands were denied summarily by local administration.
Afsana, who is associated with Right to Food campaign in Maduadanh division, said that her inspection and conversation with family members revealed that they had not cooked anything in last three days. “When I returned to block headquarters, I found that block development officers were out. I contacted sub-divisional magistrate and apprised him of the situation. Acting upon the situation, SDM directed AO for action. Later, the family was given 50 kg of grains and Rs 2,000 for the last rites of Munda," said Afsana.
However, district administration appeared to be in denial mode over the claims. A report in The Indian Express quoted Sudhir Kumar Das, Sub-divisional Magistrate, Mahuadanr, as saying, "It does not look like it was a hunger death. He had an Ayushman Bharat card, was a beneficiary of Ujjwala scheme, received pension and had a ration card." However, he also conceded that the administration has received complaints regarding non-functioning of point of sale machine.
The region, which has been in news after the death of 11-year-old girl in Simdega owing to hunger, has seen a slew of deaths in the recent months, which exposes utter failure of the state government in delivering basic necessities to the most marginalised people of the state. Earlier investigations by NewsClick had revealed that major obstacles in the delivery of rations are point of sale machines and linking of Aadhaar with ration cards.
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Another activist Siraj Dutta argued that the consistent denial by the government remains the main reason behind non-resolution of the issue. He said, "The latest incident in Latehar is 20th in the series where victims have died due to starvation. First, government is rigid on its stand that there is no starvation in the state.”
“Second, when we look at these deaths, we find a clear trend. Among these 20 cases, we found that 12-13 victims' ration cards were not linked with Aadhaar, and subsequently, they were denied ration. We also found that the government is not serious regarding resolution of these issues. Even if they deny starvation, they must renew ration cards which were deleted earlier or make new ones. We found that at least six victims were not issued ration cards which should have been done. While these cases have been highlighted because victims had died, cases are largely underreported. Also, anger seems to be brewing among these sections. Last month, people surrounded headquarters and protested against this inaction. So, government must act before it slips beyond control."
Also read: In the Absence of Aadhaar, Starvation Deaths Continue in Jharkhand