Claiming there have been 13 starvation deaths in West Bengal in the past 14 months, a network of trade unions and NGOs on Saturday demanded reforms in the public distribution system (PDS).
It also urged the state government to "convince" the central government to make certain amendments in the proposed Food Security Bill.
"Since May 2011, 13 starvation deaths have been reported in the state, which implies that that the food security situation in West Bengal is still worrying. There is an urgent need to carry out reforms in the PDS so that the benefits actually reach the poor and the needy," West Bengal adviser to the Supreme Court Anuradha Talwar said in Kolkata.
However, state food minister Jyoti Priya Mullick rubbished the reports of starvation deaths.
"Not a single death due to starvation has taken place. Although the said deaths were unnatural in some cases but were not due to hunger or starvation. While in few cases the deaths were due to snakebite, in others it was due to old age and sickness," said Mullick.
Talwar, quoting death certificates of the deceased, claimed the deaths were due to starvation.
The Talwar-led Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (a trade union) and several other unions and NGOs will undertake a statewide agitation demanding reforms to check mismanagement in the PDS.
The demands include correction of PDS beneficiaries' list, enhanced monitoring and vigilance of PDS shops and monitoring of sick tea estates.
Claiming that the proposed Food Security Bill will actually reduce the food grain allocation for PDS, the network urged the state government to insist on a bill that ensures universal coverage with equal entitlements for all and guarantees decentralised procurement.
Talwar also said the central government's proposal to provide cash transfers to PDS beneficiaries instead of providing them food grains would increase corruption.
"If the cash transfer system is allowed it will absolutely corrupt the much corrupt PDS," added Talwar.
The central government is mulling winding up the antiquated PDS and replace it with a system by which food stamps or coupons, and where necessary, cash transfers, are mailed directly to the recipients of subsidised food grain, sugar and kerosene.