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INDIA: Extreme starvation claims five lives of a tribal family in Orissa

The Asia Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regrets to inform you that extreme poverty and long-term starvation lead to the death of five members including two children under age of six of the same family of a tribal community from September to December 2009. It is also reported that within the last two years starvation claimed the lives of 50 among the 35-40 age group in the same village. It has been exposed that all forms of government programmes aiming to ensure food security for the poor and children have not reached Borumal village properly. Even after several complaints from the villagers, the administration authority has never taken action to respect the right to food of the villagers by implementing those schemes. The Right to Food Campaign Orissa filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for the case and the AHRC strongly urges the relevant authorities to take immediate action for the villagers who have been denied of their right to food.

To join the online petition for the case, please click here.

CASE DETAILS:

On September 6 and 7, 2009, ten-month old Gundru Bariha and three-year old Siba Prasad Bariha died due to severe malnourishment. Two days later, on September 9, 2009, they were followed in death by their 35-year old mother, Bimla Bariha. The father, Jhintu Bariha, and the elder son Ramprasad, aged around 7, received medical attention. Jhintu was hospitalized several times for fever and lose motion. He died on October 7, 2009. On December 17, 2009 his mother, Minji Bahira (aged 70), died after she was brought to the hospital in a critical condition. Seven year-old Ramprasad survives alone in the family.

Jhintu's family lives in Chabripali in Buromal village of Bhanpur Panchayat (administrative unit composing of more than one village), Khaprakhol Block of Balangir district, Orissa. They neither own any land nor have a regular, stable source of income. Jhintu had worked as an agricultural labourer but had to stop this work after suffering an electric shock which badly damaged his left hand and leg. After sometime he had no other option but to go back to work as a migrant labourer in other states. However, in June 2009 Jhintu fell sick and could no longer migrate to find work, meaning that the family had no source of income.

Bimla, who also occasionally undertook light agricultural work, was unable to work full-time as she was still nursing her one year old daughter, Gundra. Consequently, for several months the family survived by sharing 12.5kg of rice given by Jhintu's elderly from their entitlement under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) and sharing his father’s small pension.

Although in a state of very vulnerable living conditions, Jhintu's family is not identified as a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family despite of this vulnerable living condition as the BPL list in Orissa has not been revised since 1997. His mother was entitled to a pension but had never received it. The family suffered from lack of food and sickness and finding no other avenues for survival, Jhintu's sick 80 year old father, Jhintu and Bimla turned to occasional begging.

According to a fact-finding report by the Right to Food Programme Orissa, prior to their deaths the children were living on mudhi (puffed rice), salt and black tea. They went to sleep each night hungry – and were given water to quell the pain when they woke up crying. Furthermore, Bimla was unable to feed her youngest young child as she herself was malnourished and did not produce milk.

Although Jhintu has reportedly asked several times the head of the village, the Sarapanch, to give him a BPL card, the Sarapanch has expressed his inability to do it. The village head rather requested INR 3,000 (USD 65) bribe to procure Jhintu a house under Indira Awas Yojana scheme, which Jhintu could not afford. Similarly the villagers had been complaining about governmental benefits not reaching the village, but no steps were taken by the administration. No other actions were taken by officials prior to the deaths.

As a consequence of this regular insufficient food intake, the family members got weaker and therefore more vulnerable to diseases. At the time of their deaths, Gundru and Siba were suffering from fever, cough and severe anemia.

The family should have been entitled to different subsidized food programmes. Nevertheless prior to those three deaths they never received any benefit from them because of the poor functioning of the State institutions in charge of their implementation. Most of all, the family did not have a regular income source such as farm land to ensure food security.

A Public Interest Litigation has been filed on January 27, 2010.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

In Orissa, the BPL list has not been updated since 1997. Although Jhintu had separated from his parents to live with his own family, the lack of update in the list does not recognize his poor living conditions causing that his parents have to share their entitlement with his family.

Furthermore two of the children have never been beneficiaries under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) aiming to ensure food and health security of the children under age of six. It is discovered that since several years those benefits have not reached those who were entitled to them in the village.

The villagers reported that they had lodged several complaints to the Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) and the Block Development Officer (BDO) about the non-distribution of food to the children of the village at Anganwadi centre (child care centre in villages) but it is only after the drama that a mini Anganwadi centre was approved for Chabripali hamlet.

On the other hand, the right to work, one of the necessary elements for right to food, was not protected by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which has been implemented in Balangir since February 2006. It is found by the report of the fact-finding teams that for the last eight months, the NREGA has not been operating in the village. The wage payment never comes on time and some villagers have been waiting for their due for months which discourages them from resorting to this act. Jhintu was not a beneficiary of NREGA. Villagers have made a complaint in this regard but the administration did not take any step against it.

The relevant authorities' responses came too late, which was also seen in the case of Buhje Naik's family, another tribal family in Orissa. The village head gave the family 12.5 kilograms of rice under Gratuitous Relief (GR) on September 9 2009. From September 11 onwards Jinthu and his parents were provided food cooked by the local Anganwadi twice a day. Jinthu has received INR 10,000 (USD 217) under the family benefit scheme and an additional sum of INR 5,000 (USD 108) as advance under a welfare housing scheme. Nevertheless, this was insufficient to counterbalance the effect of months of under nutrition and Jinthu and his mother passed away as well.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT:

The Supreme Court, in an interim order in October 2002 fixed the responsibility on the Chief Secretary for any starvation death occurring in a state.

In a clear attempt to avoid their responsibility and to preserve the image of the government, the state officials have been constantly denying that the five deaths were due to starvation. On December 28 2009, in a report ‘regarding alleged starvation death of the family members of Jhintu Bariha of Chabripali’ to the government of Orissa, Collector Balangir stated that the death of the two children and Jhintu's wife were due to malaria and that Jhintu and his mother could not have died of malnutrition since they had been provided food and money following the first deaths.

Therefore no action has been taken against the officials responsible for the death and no inquiry has been launched. In this specific case, the government of Orissa has clearly not fulfilled its internal obligations to guarantee the food security.

India has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and cultural rights recognizing the ‘fundamental right of everyone to be freed from hunger’. Similarly, the article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges the States Parties to take appropriate measures to combat disease and nutrition through the provision of adequate nutritious food.

The 2 May 2003 order of the Supreme Court of India directed the government to evolve a system of ensuring that all families are identified as BPL. Nevertheless, the government of Orissa is still finalizing the 2002 survey, although a new survey should have been done in 2007. This delay has been allegedly due to the central government which asked the government of Orissa to reduce the number of families under the BPL, de facto maintaining the exclusion of poor families from those benefits.

The State Advisor office, attached to the Supreme Court remarked that 'the inadequate food intake was taking heavy tool on the health of the whole family which in turn was reducing their ability to work to earn. They were therefore caught in the vicious circle of poverty and starvation. Clearly, letting five persons in such a state of food deprivation that it will lead to their death is an infringement of India’s international obligations and a violation of the human rights internationally, as well as internally, recognized.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please join us in expressing your deep concern about those deaths from starvation. Please note that the improper implementation of the food security programs have led to deaths of tribal family in Orissa.

Please be informed that the AHRC has also written a separate letter calling for intervention, to the Chief Justice of India and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Re: INDIA: Extreme starvation claims five lives of the same family in Orissa

Names of victim:
1. Gundru Bariha (one year old), son of Jhintu Bariha, died on September 6, 2009
2. Siba Prasad Bariha (three years old), daughter of Jhintu Bariha, died on September 7, 2009
3. Bimla Bariha (35 years old), wife of Jhintu Bariha, died on September 9, 2009
4. Jhintu Bariha, 42, died on October 7, 2009
5. Minji Bahira, 70, mother of Jhintu Bariha, died on December 17, 2009
Surviving members of the family:
1. Ramprasad Bariha, seven year old, son of Jhintu Bariha
2. Champi Bariha, 80, father of Jhintu Bariha
Public servants in charge of food security of the deceased victims:
1. Village head of Buromal village who demanded Jhintu of a bribe for housing scheme
2. Collector of Balangir district who denied of starvation issue and neglects his duty to respect right to food of the villagers
3. Department of Woman and Child Development who has not monitored implement of relevant programmes guaranteeing child health care and nutrition
4. Other relevant officials who are in charge of relevant programmes for food distribution, child health care, right to work (NREGA)
Name of village:
Chabripali hamlet in Buromal village of Bhanpur Panchayat, Khaprakhol Block of Balangir district, Orissa

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the five deaths of Jhintu Bariha's family; two of his children, Jhintu's wife, Jhintu's mother and himself caused by extreme poverty and starvation from September to December 2009 in Buromal village, Orissa. Their deaths leave a seven year old orphan behind with little prospect regarding his future.

According to the information I have received, the Bariha family did not own land and was deprived of any regular income. Jhintu was forced to migrate to other states in order to support his family. After injury on his hand and leg by electroshock, Jhintu’s working ability had been curtailed. In June 2009, he fell sick and could not work as a migrant labourer anymore which left the family without any resources. His wife, Bimla Bariha, tried to indulge into light agricultural work but could not work full-time as she had to take care of her ten month-old daughter.

I am informed that that for months, the five-member family had to survive on a 12.5 kilograms of rice given by Jhintu's parents who have a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) card with which they can collect rice at subsidized price. During the last days of their lives, the health of the mother and the two youngest children deteriorated dramatically because of constant starvation. The two children also suffered from cough, fever and severe anaemia as getting weak.

I am concerned to hear that the two deceased children have never received any health care and supplementary food under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). I am further surprised to learn that even after the villagers' several complaints on this, the relevant authority had not taken any action to implement the scheme properly. 100 day-employment guaranteeing the food security of the poor under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) did not reach the villagers either. I have learned that the Western Orissa consortium for implementing NREGA admitted in 2008 that the scheme had failed to deliver in Balangir but that no steps have been taken to correct that.

I am further surprised to learn that, since the BPL list had not been updated since 1997 in the Orissa State, families such as Jhintu’s, though in extreme poverty, have not been identified as a BPL. It was reported by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in 2009 that the BPL survey in Orissa has been performed by enormous corruption.

I am of the opinion that the governmental response came after the death. It is only after the death of the mother and the two children that the family received money, rice and two cooked meals a day. Nevertheless, this was too late and insufficient to counterbalance the effect of months of under nutrition and Jhintu and his mother passed away as well.

However, the relevant government authorities reportedly attempted to escape their responsibility and duties. Despite of these clear malfunctioning of the food security programs in Balangir, Orissa, the government still refuses to acknowledge the relevant public servants neglect and their corruption in the implementation of programs guaranteeing the right to food of tribal communities in particular. I am of opinion that the government made up an excuse to argue that the deceased victims did not die of starvation but died of deceases.

It is apparently exposed that the victim family have been deprived of their right to food suffering from lack of income resource and food. In addition to this, they have been denied access to all forms of government programmes aiming to ensure food security for the poor in the village. I am of the opinion that the sicknesses they had were not the main causes of their deaths but were rather developed by lack of food, nutrition and hygienic water. The World Health Organization also documented (WHO) how malnutrition affects on sicknesses and may lead death after all.

I am therefore of the opinion that the responsible government should take appropriate action to investigate the public servants who have been neglecting their duties and sanction them in order to prevent further deaths caused by food insecurity and starvation. I am informed that within the last two years around 50 villagers in their thirties had died suffering from starvation in Buromal village.

India has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and cultural rights recognising the ‘fundamental right of everyone to be freed from hunger’. Similarly, the article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges the States Parties to take appropriate measures to combat disease and nutrition through the provision of adequate nutritious food.

Clearly, letting five persons in such a state of food deprivation that it will lead to their death is an infringement of India’s international obligations and a violation of the human rights internationally, as well as internally, recognized .

I am therefore calling for the proper investigation of those cases of starvation-related deaths. The malfunctioning of the food security programs must be immediately fixed to ensure that those benefits will reach the poor tribal community in Buromal village.

I look forward to your positive and immediate action to this case.

Yours sincerely,

--------------
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Krishna Tirath
Minister of Women and Child Development
Government of India
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2331 4788
E-mail: krishnatirath@yahoo.in

2. Ms. Anu Garg
Commissioner cum Secretary
Department of Health & Family Welfare
Government of Orissa, Secretariat Building
Bhubaneshwar - 751 001, Orissa
INDIA
Fax: +91 674 2390 674
E-mail: orhealth@ori.nic.in or secy-hfw-or@nic.in

3. Mr. Rakumar Sharma
Commissioner and Secretary Revenue and Disaster Management
Bhubaneswar, Orissa
INDIA
Fax: +91 674 2393 832
E-mail: revsec.or@nic.in

4. Mr. Naveen Patnaik
Chief Minister
Naveen Nivas, Aerodrome Road
P.O.Bhubaneswar, Dist. Khurda
751001 Orissa
INDIA
E-mail: cmo@ori.nic.in

5. Aswathy S.
District Collector
Collectorate
Balangir District
Orissa
INDIA
Fax: +91 6652 233082
E-mail: dmblgr@ori.nic.in

6. Justice Shri Govind Prasad Mathur
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax + 91 11 2338 4863
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

7. Mrs. Shantha Sinha
Chairperson
National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)
5th Floor, Chnadralok Building, Janpath,
New Delhi
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23731584
E-mail: ncpcr.india@gmail.com / shantha.sinha@nic.in

8. UNICEF
73 Lodi Estates
New Delhi 110 003
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2462 7521 / 11 2469 1410
E-mail: newdelhi@unicef.org

9. Mr. He ChangChui
Regional Representative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Maliwan Mansion
Phra Atit Road
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Fax: +66 2 697 4445
Email: FAO-RAP@fao.org

Thank you.

Hunger Alert Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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