357 families with 1,391 members residing in Jalpaiguri district will benefit

The West Bengal government has decided to provide free foodgrains to members of the Toto community, one of the country’s oldest tribes, and which is facing extinction.

“All the 357 families of Totos with 1,391 members who reside in Jalpaiguri district will be provided eight kg of foodgrains every month from November 15,” Food Minister Jyotipriya Mullick told The Hindu over telephone on Tuesday. The announcement comes on World Food Day. The Totos are one of the oldest Indo-Bhutanese tribes — living at Totopara in the Madarihat block of Jalpaiguri district, about 100 km from the district headquarters.

“I visited Totapara on Tuesday and was appalled to see their condition,” Mr. Mullick said.

He said since the community did not come out of Totopara to avail the public distribution system, the government had decided to arrange free supply in their locality.

The government is also considering extending this scheme to other tribal communities such as Bihor, Sabar and Lodhas, he said. Mr. Mullick visited some tea gardens, where there have been deaths allegedly due to starvation in the past one year.

“I visited Kumlai and Dheklapara tea gardens in the district. The people had certain grievances like subsidised foodgrains through the PDS not being properly distributed,” he said.

“In case of closure of tea gardens the families of workers will be covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana schemes where subsidised foodgrains are provided to the family.”

Meanwhile, the government distributed free foodgrains in several places to mark the day.

Representatives of various NGOs who took out a two-week-long “Right to Food Campaign” across 16 districts of the State claimed that the government had been forced to acknowledge starvation because of the campaign.

“It is important for the government to acknowledge that there is starvation in certain parts of the State. The problem should not be seen from the point of view of politics and all stakeholders should come forward to address the issue,” said Anuradha Talwar, a civil rights activist involved with the campaign.”