According to a statement released by the Right to Food Campaign, there have been at least 56 starvations deaths in the country in last four years, of which 42 deaths happened in 2017-18. However, the negligence and insensitivity displayed by the central and state governments are deplorable, as they continue to ignore the striking number of hunger deaths in the country.
According to the Campaign, majority of the deaths have been among families of marginalised castes and tribes. However, no measures have been introduced by the government to prevent starvation.
The statement reads, “Hunger deaths occur when the victim faces prolonged hunger because there was no food or money in the house, and that, quite likely, he or she would have survived otherwise. These hunger deaths are a reminder of the precarious living conditions of the poor in many parts of the country.”
Also Read: About 45 Hunger-Related Deaths Reported in Past One Year, Say Activists
It mentions that many of the people who are susceptible to starvation rely critically on the social security pensions and the public distribution system (PDS) provided by the state. Talking to NewsClick, Dipa Sinha, the convener of the steering committee of the campaign, said, “These starvation deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is much larger. The state should have played the role of social protector. However, it just chooses to ignore the problems.”
She also said that in most of the cases of starvation deaths in the past years, the victims were eligible for the social security schemes, but they did not receive the benefits. Sinha said, “We just have imaginary schemes. The real people do not benefit from them.”
Also Read: Even After 18 ‘Starvation’ Deaths, Jharkhand Govt Continues to Remain in Denial
The statement mentions one particularly tragic case of 11-year-old Santoshi Kumari from Jharkhand, who starved to death on September 28, 2017. It was later found that her family’s ration card had been cancelled as it had not been linked with Aadhaar. According to a list of starvation deaths in the country compiled by Siraj Dutta, Reetika Khera and Swati Narayan, 25 of the deaths in past three years can be attributed to exclusions due to Aadhaar failure.
The campaign has put forward a list of their demands, which are
1. Universalise PDS: End quota system and expand the National Food Security Act to ensure universal rations from the Public Distribution System (PDS) to all families.
2. Prevent Aadhaar Exclusions: Ensure that no family is excluded for want of Aadhaar from availing their social security entitlements especially rations, pensions and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) – delink Aadhaar from all social welfare schemes.
3. Provide Community Kitchens: Provide free hot, cooked nutritious midday meals for pregnant women, lactating mothers, homeless persons and the elderly in Anganwadi centres or schools. Also extend school midday meals during vacations and start free community kitchens in all urban areas.
4. Improve School and Anganwadi Meals: Eggs, fruits and milk for children everyday through the mid-day meal scheme and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
5. Provide Special Nutrition and Pensions: Provide all the 75 identified particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) nationwide and the highly impoverished Musahar dalit community in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, which have had the most deaths, with a special free nutritional package similar to that provided to Rajasthan’s Sahariyas along with monthly social pensions.
6. Pay Compensatory Allowance: As mandated in the food law, provide all excluded families with compensatory food security allowance, with retrospective effect of at least one year.
7. Amendment of the National Food Security Act: To make subsidised pulses and edible oil legal guarantees under the PDS and mandatory inclusion of eggs in midday meals and Anganwadis.
8. Implement and Operationalise Grievance Redress and accountability provisions in the National Food Security Act.
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