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INDIA: The National Human Rights Commission of India must conduct an objective and scientific investigation to make a fair conclusion and recommendation

A letter came from the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) postmarked Delhi 14 July 2009 was received by the AHRC. It concerned two complaints regarding children who died of malnutrition in Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh in 2007 (for the full text of the letter, please see here).

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-STM-182-2009
September 1, 2009

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

INDIA: The National Human Rights Commission of India must conduct an objective and scientific investigation to make a fair conclusion and recommendation

A letter came from the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) postmarked Delhi 14 July 2009 was received by the AHRC. It concerned two complaints regarding children who died of malnutrition in Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh in 2007 (for the full text of the letter, please see here).

The final conclusion after two year and three months was that, firstly, the children did not die of malnutrition and that, secondly, the administration had taken appropriate steps. The letter stated, "There is no need of any further intervention on the part of the commission in the instant case. The case be closed."

What were the procedures of investigation that took them two years and three months to reach a conclusion?

The complaints registered by the family of the deceased children with the help of local human rights group, PVCHR called for the relevant authorities to accept responsibility for their deaths. The complaints alleged the corrupt practice in food distribution as well as neglect of the public servants attached to the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

As the NHRC made two conclusions, there were two main purposes for the investigation. The first purpose was to examine the cause of the children’s death, which means this would identify those responsible. It was also to discover the effectiveness of the local administration and public servants and to find out what they have done for the deceased children and their family. If the investigation by the NHRC unearthed information that the public servants were responsible due to their negligence it has a duty to make a recommendation on prosecution and punishment to the relevant authorities. This is what the NHRC has to do according to the Human Rights Act 1995.

The NHRC made a direction for only two administration officers to report on the complaints; the District Magistrate (DM) Mr. Ajay Kumar Upadhyay and the Special Secretary to government of Uttar Pradesh. The NHRC did not collect any evidence and opinion to prove the facts in the reports. The NHRC failed to play its primary role.

To clarify the cause of the children’s deaths it is common sense to get the medical reports for the deceased children or the opinion of the medical expert such as pediatricians. In addition, for the neutrality of the investigation, it is necessary to collect the information, not only from the relevant government authority, but also from the victim’s family and others.

Coincidently, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) witnessed the two children’s deaths at the spot. The first child was five-year-old Juli weighing only seven kilograms at that time (please see the Hunger Alert for details). It was grade IV malnutrition coming under the Severely Acute Malnutrition (SAM) according to the international health standard by the World Health Organization (WTO) or UNICEF. In addition, Juli’s doctor, R.K. Singh also diagnosed that she suffered from grade IV malnutrition.

Why did the DM insist that the children did not die of malnutrition but from disease? This is a common excuse and practice among the government authorities who face child malnutrition as well as deaths from malnutrition. Is it because the administration has to take responsibility for the deaths once they accept the fact that the children died of malnutrition. The denial of the state governments as well as local administrations has been seen in the history of child malnutrition in India. Recently, the Minister of Women and Child Development in Madhya Pradesh also stated during the meeting on state government’s budget in last month that the human rights groups exaggerated the number of the deaths from malnutrition. The Minister even announced that the children did not die of malnutrition but of diseases when many children died of malnutrition in 2008.

Not a single child dies of malnutrition alone. It is a medical fact. The WHO report (2000) clearly states that malnourished children have signs and symptoms such as wasting, oedema, airway and breathing difficulties, dehydration from diarrhoea, infections of the ear, throat, skin, pneumonia, mouth ulcers. In addition, the Medicins Sans Frontieres in the recent statement clarified that severely malnourished individuals, in particular young children, lose their muscle mass – this is why they appear so thin, or wasted. Severe acute malnutrition weakens the immune system and reduces the ability to fight off infection. This is why severely malnourished children have a much higher chance of dying from common childhood illnesses such as respiratory infections or diarrhoea.

When the administration authorities make an official report on child death or malnutrition, they intentionally expose only the diseases the deceased child might have had, ignoring the fact of malnutrition.

The problem is that the NHRC simply repeats what the administration tells them. The NHRC’s duty is not to request a report from the administration but to investigate the parties in the administration that the complaints are made against. It is a primary role to collect facts from various parties and make an unbiased conclusion. Collecting information only from the administration is the same as the police merely listening to the perpetrator and ignoring the victim’s.

When the AHRC visited the villages where the two deceased children lived, there were several allegations about the malfunction of public services for the food security and child health care. However, the NHRC did not pay attention to the public system failing to prevent children's deaths and to ensure the food security and the relevant corruption of the officials relating to the complaints.

The NHRC says that the administration has taken appropriate steps for the victims. According to the NHRC, the appropriate steps are to provide money for the compensation and some food grains for the family. The NHRC also made a conclusion that the complaint was found to be not true. However, there is no ground to say so. The NHRC did not make an objective investigation to discover the facts. In addition, there is a big time gap between the complaints and the investigation.

The complaints were submitted in April and December 2007, while the NHRC received the report from the DM on 28 June 2008. It has been more than a year and half and a year respectively since the first and second cases was submitted. If the complaint was not true as the victim's family got the ration card several months after the child's death and the AWC started working a year after the death, the conclusion of the NHRC cannot be true either as it can be changed anytime.

It is necessary to ask, does the NHRC know the primary principle of the investigation and the difference between a truth and a lie.

Whenever the NHRC makes a conclusion that the complaint is wrong and closed, the more suffer from the human rights violation since the national body for the human rights monitoring does not function at all.

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