Rights group claims hunger death in West Bengal; administration denies it

The deceased had been eating small quantities after being diagnosed with TB, says groups report while the District Magistrate terms the claims ‘baseless’

August 16, 2022 08:27 pm | Updated 08:27 pm IST - Kolkata

Family members of Sanjay Sardar in West Bengal’s Jhargram district 

Family members of Sanjay Sardar in West Bengal’s Jhargram district  | Photo Credit: Dipyaman Adhikari

A 30-year-old tribal person Sanjay Sardar, a resident of Bhula Beda village died of hunger on August 3, 2022, in West Bengal’s Jhargram district, claimed Right to Food and Work Network (RTFWN), a civil rights group. 

District Magistrate of Jhargram, Sunil Agarwala denied the claims, calling them “baseless”. According to RTFWN, West Bengal, Sanjay Sardar was head of a four-member family and is survived by his 27-year-old-wife, Saraswati Sardar and two children aged nine and six.  

“Since the husband had stopped work after being diagnosed with TB (Tuberculosis) in June, his wife would try to get some work and then buy food for a few days with that money. On the days before Sanjay’s death, he and his wife had been eating very small quantities of only one meal during the entire day, giving the little they got to their children first,” a press statement by RTFWN on Tuesday said.

The District Magistrate told The Hindu that the administration has conducted an inquiry and “it was a baseless claim”. “Death was due to illness, TB (Tuberculosis) and other reasons... The person used to stay outside the district most days in a month,” Mr. Agarwala added.

Fact-finding report

The RTFWN in a fact-finding report that was made public on Tuesday highlighted that the family did not have access to food and were going hungry. 

“Saraswati Sardar clearly stated that her family was skipping meals for a long time now. Food like milk and non-vegetarian items had completely stopped. They would manage one meal a day most of the days. Saraswati and Sanjay had eaten even less in order to give their children first priority from the little food that they could manage... During the week leading to Sanjay’s death, the family had been eating only one meal a day or the quantity of one meal divided over two times,” the report said.

The RTFWN also pointed out that on August 14, a group of officials including from the food and supplies department visited the deceased person’s house in the absence of his brother and after apparently talking to the deceased’s wife Saraswati Sardar they came up with their own report.

The major points of their report were that the family’s RKSY II cards [Type of ration card in West Bengal] have been converted into RKSY I (which provides 5 kgs of foodgrains per card) but the family has not contacted the concerned sources since they were mostly migrating for work. The administration’s report also mentions that Sanjay Sardar was drinking regularly even after being diagnosed with TB and he was receiving his DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) regularly.

The fact-finding team of RTFWN that visited the village, met the family of the deceased alongside the District Magistrate and Block Development Officer and pointed out that they found the report was incorrect.

Sanjay was a migrant worker who, like millions of other migrant workers, lost his job after COVID-19 induced lockdown.

“Sanjay and the others in his family had applied for job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act but never got it. Sanjay and his family like most tribal families in the region do not own any land and would work on others’ land in return for daily wages which ranged from ₹250 to ₹150 depending on the work and time and lasted not more than a cumulative 100 days in a year,” the fact-finding report on the death said.

Demanding that the wife and children be provided AAY (Antodaya Anna Yojana) cards which provide 35 kgs of food grains per family in a month, the RTFWN found out that the family had been given RKSY II cards which provided only 2 kgs of food grains.

Even the foodgrain entitlement under RKSY II had been denied to the family, for the past six months almost, on the pretext of not having digital cards, RTFWN activists said. The rights group has also demanded compensation of ₹5 lakh for family members of Sanjay.

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