At least 100 people have died of hunger in the past three years in Bihar, asserts a Supreme Court-appointed official after extensive surveys. But the state government has trashed the claim.
"It is a hard fact that 100 people died of hunger in Bihar in the last three years due to the failure of food- and work- related government schemes," said Rupesh, state adviser to the commissioner of the Supreme Court to monitor the implementation of food-related schemes of the Bihar government.
Rupesh said he had submitted a report on hunger deaths in Bihar to the state government in August and another last week. Copies of the two reports are with IANS including names of the victims.
The reports were also sent to the commissioner of the Supreme Court, N.C. Saxena.
Rupesh said the reports not only confirm the deaths due to hunger but reveal the pathetic situation regarding implementation of food and social security schemes in Bihar.
These schemes include the Integrated Child Development Scheme, the Midday Meal Scheme, the public distribution system, the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Maternity Benefit Scheme, the National Social Assistance Programme, the National Family Benefit Scheme and the Annapurna Yojana.
"Apart from major leakages and corruption, the coverage of government food schemes is so meagre that they leave huge gaping holes in the social security net through which large numbers of most destitute women and men, girls and boys slip into starvation and hunger," said Rupesh.
The reports warned that the situation can worsen "if all possible action is not taken before it becomes uncontrollable".
Bihar has been hit very badly by drought and flood. As many as 26 districts are drought-affected.
Nearly 40 per cent of Bihar's 83 million people live below the poverty line, the highest in India, according to a World Bank report.
Rupesh said researchers led by him visited Begusarai, Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Jehanabad, Nalanda and Patna between June and August. These are the districts where starvation deaths have been reported by the media in the last two-three years.
Rupesh told IANS that in Ratubigha village in Jehanabad district and Jhamawara village in Nalanda district, the block development officer (BDO) did not feel it necessary to send the body for postmortem or get a medical report after alleged starvation death.
In Tetua Tola Kharuna village in Gaya district, Murti Devi in her late 40s died Oct 10. Although the local administration denied that she died of hunger, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has ordered a probe.
In Ratubigha village in Jehanabad district, about 50 km from here, three starvation deaths took place over four days in August, Rupesh said.
Ajay Dome, the son of one of the victims, Chalitar, claimed that his father went without food for eight days before he died. Rupesh's report points out that Ajay and his wife Renu Kumari were not on the BPL list because of which they could not buy food at subsidised rates.
Chalitar' son complained of lack of work and said the family was fighting for survival. He complained he was not getting any subsidised food.
Bihar Agriculture Minister Renu Kumari Kushwaha denied there had been any deaths due to hunger in Bihar. "We have no information of any starvation or hunger death in the state," Kushwaha told IANS.