The Bihar government does not admit to a single hunger death in recent years. But civil rights activists insist that malnutrition and hunger have been significant issues in the state.
"Many such deaths have taken place in the red zone of the Maoist-hit Gaya district of south central Bihar. This zone covers some of the poorest blocks of Gaya, which have a significant presence of reds," said Jitendra, general secretary of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Bihar unit.
The latest of such deaths took place at Dehuri village in Atri block of Gaya where, PUCL insists, 20-year-old differently-abled youth, Naushad Ansari, died of starvation on September 2.
"I have personally confirmed it was a case of starvation death," said Father Jose K, who visited the village on September 4 as head of a PUCL fact-finding team.
He said Ansari's mother used to make 24 kg of incense sticks per month and was paid Rs. 12 per kg. But owing to moist conditions caused by rain, she was unable to make any. The family did not have a BPL card, and had been going hungry.
"The government claimed the boy died of disease. But it was hunger that claimed his life," said Fr Jose, who also runs a social centre at Bodh Gaya.
He claimed by a rough estimate "about 200 hunger deaths" had taken place in Bihar, of which about 50 had occurred in Gaya.
"In some areas, families subsist on leaves," he added.
However, Bihar food and civil supplies minister Shyam Rajak claims starvation death reports were NGO propaganda.
"There's no evidence to show even a single death was caused by starvation," he said.
Rajak said food grain banks under the Annapoorna scheme were in place.
"Reserve stocks of food grains are available with mukhias. Where's the question of starvation death?" he asked.