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INDIA: Starvation deaths occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal

On a recent visit to the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, colleagues of Masum were shocked to hear reports of numerous recent starvation deaths among villagers there, about which the authorities appear to be doing nothing. Some of the reports that Masum has received are as follows:

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

7 March 2005

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HA-02-2005: INDIA: Starvation deaths occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal

INDIA: Starvation death; government inaction and neglect
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) in West Bengal, India, that people in Murshidabad district are dying of starvation while the government authorities have not taken any effective action to stop the deaths. One five-year-old boy is reported to have been eating dirt before he died. According to a local doctor, "The entire area is under threat of insufficient nutritious food."

Masum reports that no government programmes to address starvation are properly functioning in the area, despite the fact that the local authorities are well aware of what is going on. 

The AHRC urges you to write to the concerned authorities, including the Chief Minister of West Bengal, and call on them to take necessary emergency action to stop any further deaths from occurring in Murshidabad district, and longer-term steps to address the food crisis there.

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Location: Dayarampur village and surrounding areas, including Udayanagar, Suryanagar Colony and Paraspur, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India.
Persons affected:
Numerous, including
1. Azizul Haque
2. Alimuddin Seik, aged about 67, husband of Jahida Beoa
3. Jahida Beoa, aged 60, wife of Alimuddin Seik
4. Sattar Seik, aged 50
Date of last reported death: 25 February 2005 (deaths ongoing)

On a recent visit to the Murshidabad district of West Bengal, colleagues of Masum were shocked to hear reports of numerous recent starvation deaths among villagers there, about which the authorities appear to be doing nothing. Some of the reports that Masum has received are as follows:

1. Neimuddin stated that his brother Azizul Haque died of hunger because of no work to earn a livelihood. Neimuddin said that before his brother died he had not witnessed any cooking at his home for days. His brother finally died of starvation. Up to today Azizul's wife and son are starving, and may also die from hunger soon.

2. Sukuda Bibi, a relative of Alimuddin Seik and his wife Jahida Beoa, says that both of them died recently after their bodies swelled up from malnutrition. Sukuda Bibi told the Rural Health Centre of Sadikhanrdeyar that there was no food at home. Whatever they had, no matter how unhygienic or lacking in nutrition, they ate up in a desperate and ultimately failed attempt to survive. DrAshish Kumar Ghosh, the Medical Officer attached with the Rural Health Centre, said that, "The cause of death in Jahida's case was associated with old age problems. However, malnutrition was one of the major causes of her suffering. I visited the victims' village and found that the entire area is under threat of insufficient nutritious food."

3. Sattar Seik died of hunger at the Behrampur District Sadar Hospital. He was referred there from the Rural Health Centre of Sadikhanrdeyar. On this case Dr Ashish Kumar Ghosh said, "We don't have proper and sufficient medical equipment and so we have to refer our patients to the district hospital." Dr Matiur Rahman, a doctor attached to the Behrampur District Hospital said, "The patients who have been referred to here are not in condition even to utter a word. They have been kept on oxygen but nothing can be said regarding their improvement."

4. Shyamali Halder said, "Another five-year-old boy also died suffering from the same cause. Five days ago his stomach was swelled up. It was found out that he had been living by eating dirt. For many days there had been no cooking in his house."

According to Masum, "Every day someone or the other dies of hunger in the village of Dayarampur or among other adjacent villages. They have not even heard of Annapurna Yojana, a central government scheme intended to give them food grains when in need. One handicapped man named Amir Shah complained that their names have not even been included in the Below Poverty Line list, which would allow them to apply for assistance."

When the Sub-divisional Officer of Murshidabad, Mr Rabindranath Sarkar, was approached he admitted that there is an acute problem and shortage of food grains in different villages of this district. He said that he is trying to make his best possible effort from a limited capacity. He also said that he has informed the District Magistrate about these incidents.

Mr Kanchan Chowdhury, the Block Development Officer of Jalangi, in Murshidabad district, said, "Women of this locality are fleeing to other places to get work. We are looking for options to address this economic crisis. Hopefully it will work out soon."

Mr Yunush Sarkar, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, West Bengal, said that like other countries, people in Murshidabad too are below the poverty level, but he denied that they are dying of hunger.


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Masum has also written the following:

"The hunger in Murshidabad district has affected the villagers so badly that a large number have been displaced to other areas looking for means to survive. Large numbers of students are dropping out of the schools, as it is almost impossible to carry on studies with an empty stomach, and they are being sent by their families to work elsewhere. People say that so many meetings have been held with the local Block Development Officer and other officers attached with the local civil administration, and also the village council, but all have been in vain.

"Apart from this, fertile agricultural land, houses, cattle and everything are being ruined, and the environmental conditions are worsening. These villages are situated along the river Padma, the bank of which has been eroding for the last ten years. As a result, fertile land is being lost. Since 2002 the erosion has rapidly increased. Almost all able-bodied male members of Dayarampur village have left in search of work elsewhere, leaving their elderly, female members and children at home, who are falling prey to starvation. Last year too, two children breathed their last due to starvation.

"The government is making mockery of basic human rights. According to the authorities, India is now self-sufficient in food grains. Our country is also sending so many shiploads of grain to different countries affected by natural calamities like the tsunami, while our own people are dying for want of food. The warehouses of the Food Corporation of India are full, but the people in such circumstances have nothing. The West Bengal government is letting its people starve in violation of its constitutional obligations, and those under international law."


SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and other relevant government officials regarding these starvation deaths. A sample letter follows.

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Dear Mr Bhattacharya,

Re: Starvation deaths occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal

I am shocked to hear of reports of numerous starvation deaths among villagers occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal, about which the government authorities appear to be doing nothing. Some of the cases of which I have been informed include the following:

1. Neimuddin stated that his brother Azizul Haque died of hunger because of no work to earn a livelihood. Neimuddin said that before his brother died he had not witnessed any cooking at his home for days. His brother finally died of starvation. Up to today Azizul's wife and son are starving, and may also die from hunger soon.

2. Sukuda Bibi, a relative of Alimuddin Seik and his wife Jahida Beoa, says that both of them died recently after their bodies swelled up from malnutrition. Sukuda Bibi told the Rural Health Centre of Sadikhanrdeyar that there was no food at home. Whatever they had, no matter how unhygienic or lacking in nutrition, they ate up in a desperate and ultimately failed attempt to survive. DrAshish Kumar Ghosh, the Medical Officer attached with the Rural Health Centre, said that, "The cause of death in Jahida's case was associated with old age problems. However, malnutrition was one of the major causes of her suffering. I visited the victims' village and found that the entire area is under threat of insufficient nutritious food."

3. Sattar Seik died of hunger at the Behrampur District Sadar Hospital. He was referred there from the Rural Health Centre of Sadikhanrdeyar. On this case Dr Ashish Kumar Ghosh said, "We don't have proper and sufficient medical equipment and so we have to refer our patients to the district hospital." Dr Matiur Rahman, a doctor attached to the Behrampur District Hospital said, "The patients who have been referred to here are not in condition even to utter a word. They have been kept on oxygen but nothing can be said regarding their improvement."

4. Shyamali Halder said, "Another five-year-old boy also died suffering from the same cause. Five days ago his stomach was swelled up. It was found out that he had been living by eating dirt. For many days there had been no cooking in his house."

According to the information I have received, almost every day someone or other dies of hunger in the district. These persons have never even heard of Annapurna Yojana or other food relief schemes, and persons whose names should be included on the Below Poverty Line list have not been registered.

I am informed that the Sub-divisional Officer of Murshidabad, Mr Rabindranath Sarkar, has admitted that there is an acute problem and shortage of food grains in different villages of this district. He has also informed the District Magistrate about these incidents. Mr Kanchan Chowdhury, the Block Development Officer of Jalangi is reported to have said that large number of persons, including women, are leaving the area in desperate search of work. Mr Yunush Sarkar, Member of the Legislative Assembly, West Bengal, has also admitted that people in the area are below the poverty level, but he has denied that they are dying of hunger. According to local people, so many meetings have been held with the Block Development Officer and other officers attached with the local civil administration, and also the village council, but all have been in vain.

It is reported that one of the major reasons for hunger is worsening environmental conditions. These villages are situated along the Padma River, the bank of which has been eroding for the last ten years. As a result, fertile land is being lost. Since 2002 the erosion has rapidly increased. Almost all able-bodied male members of Dayarampur village have left in search of work elsewhere, leaving their elderly, female members and children at home, who are falling prey to starvation.
 
I urge you, in accordance with domestic and international law, to take responsibility for the basic food needs of your people, and ensure that no further starvation deaths occur in Murshidabad district. Additionally, I urge your government to take steps to prevent further deterioration of the Padma River, and compensate the victims of erosion for their losses. The affected villagers should also be relocated and rehabilitated without delay.
 
Yours sincerely

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2214 5555 (O) / 2280 0631 (R)
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480 / 2214 1341
E-mail: cm@wb.gov.in, cm@writerscal.gov.in

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Mr Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2252 2628

2. District Magistrate
Murshidabad
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 3482 251 650 (O) / 3482 250 002 (R)

3. Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax: +91-11-23383792/23381508

4. Justice A. S. Anand
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhaven, Sansad Marg,
New Delhi 110 001
INDIA
Tel: + 91 11 23346244
Fax: + 91 11 23366537
E-mail: ionhrc@hub.nic.in or chairnhrc@nic.in

5. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
Chairperson
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Calcutta-700027
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in

6. Mr. Jean Ziegler
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066 
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

7. Mr Pedro Medrano Rojas
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg,
Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91-11-26150000
Fax: +91-11-26150019
Email: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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