New Delhi: Four members of a family residing in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh have died in a span of six years allegedly due to malnutrition.
Citing media reports that brought the tragic deaths into the limelight, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognizance and has issued a notice to the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government on Wednesday.
When asked, the chief medical officer (CMO) of Basti, JP Tripathi, told NewsClick that the wife of Harishchandra Pandey, a native of Ojhaganj village of Basti district, died due to malnutrition eight months ago. “We came to know about her death through villagers. They informed us that Pandey’s three daughters had also died of malnutrition in the past few years. An inquiry is going on and action will be taken against guilty," he said.
According to media reports, recently Pandey appealed to the authorities to allow him to end his life as he was unable to bear his painful existence as he had no work and no income in the past three months to be able to provide for himself and his only surviving daughter.
Tripathi, however, denied media reports on malnutrition of Pandey’s surviving daughter. “The only surviving child of Harishchandra Pandey is Vindhvasini, who is in a critical condition and is undergoing treatment. She is suffering from a neurological disorder and there is no sign of malnutrition so far. We are waiting for her medical reports and tests and then we will confirm what has happened exactly" he said.
Meanwhile, a journalist based in Basti, who wished to remain anonymous, alleged that the administration was trying to hush up the matter.
"The district administration is hiding the fact that family members of Harishchandra Pandey died due to malnutrition. They are naming some other disease and the doctors are also not proving any information regarding the deaths where autopsy did take place,” he told Newsclick.
However, the NHRC has observed that the contents of the news report, if true, raise a "serious issue of human rights violation" due to the lack of nutritional diet, adequate medical care and proper means of livelihood.
The panel said in its statement that "such reported tragic deaths, due to malnutrition and lack of other basic facilities are a matter of concern for it."
Accordingly, the commission has issued a notice to the UP government, through its chief secretary, seeking a detailed report, including the data pertaining to effective implementation of social welfare schemes in the district, it added.
"Reportedly, not being able to bear the extreme physical and mental suffering, the head of the family, has requested the authorities to allow him to end his life as he is not being given work by anyone for the last three months and has no source of income to procure bread and butter for him and lone daughter, who is also struggling to survive," the statement said.
"Such incidents are happening in spite of a large number of flagship programmes having been announced and their implementation being monitored by the Union and the state governments to ensure socio-economic protection to the citizens, including their right to food, health, education, housing and adequate standard of living," the NHRC pointed out.
This is not the first case of malnutrition deaths in Uttar Pradesh. Last year, nine people of the Musahar community died due to alleged malnutrition and allied diseases in three villages of Dudahi block in Kushinagar. These deaths, which included a five-year-old girl, exposed the poor state of health, food security and employment among the most vulnerable sections of society.
Raising concern over the state of malnutrition in UP, Dipa Sinha, assistant professor at BR Ambedkar University in Delhi and member of the Right to Food Campaign (RTFC), told NewsClick: "Uttar Pradesh is a very poor state and the news that is coming from the field is that many of protective measures that were there from the government are not being implemented. There is a crisis in agriculture and there is a problem of jobs. On top of that, whatever protective measures are there of the government, like mid-day meal schemes, sanctions, PDS, also don't seem to be working even in the minimum level as earlier it was working, There is a crisis where there is no employment and livelihood. It is not in priorities of the government."
Sinha said that in most of the cases of starvation deaths in the past years, the victims were eligible for social security schemes, but did not receive the benefits. “We just have imaginary schemes. Real people do not benefit from them,” she added.
Vibhuti Chauhan, an activist who works on starvation deaths in Kushinagar district among Musahar community, told NewsClick, "The administration never accepts that people die due to starvation in the state. The reality is that people don't die suddenly due to starvation but fall sick when they don't eat food. In Eastern UP, there are thousands of people who don't receive grains despite having ration cards. In this condition, they have left eating and suffer from so many diseases, including tuberculosis, and some also die."
Also Read: Starvation Deaths Continue to Occur in UP