Denial of starvation deaths in Jharkhand sparks anger

Rameshwar Oraon (right), seen here with CM Hemant Soren, has said the government will not open a fresh probe.

Rameshwar Oraon (right), seen here with CM Hemant Soren, has said the government will not open a fresh probe.

The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress government, headed by Hemant Soren, has denied any starvation death in the State under BJP rule in the past five years.

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The denial triggered a strong reaction from right-to-food activists and prompted questions about the coalition’s charge — in the run-up to the 2019 Assembly election — that irregularities in the public distribution system had resulted in such deaths.

Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) MLA Vinod Singh recently asked in the Assembly whether or not there were more than 12 deaths due to hunger and malnutrition in the past five years. The response by Food and Public Distribution Minister Rameshwar Oraon on March 5 was “negative” or “not true”.

Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Oraon, who also holds the Finance portfolio, said a State government “runs in continuity, and this is the report of the previous government, and how can this government say people died of starvation”.

He said, “We were in Opposition then (when the alleged deaths occurred) and the then government had cancelled 11 lakhs ration cards. Our people would go to the homes of these people and raise the issue of these deaths.” In none of the cases, he said, doctors had certified that the deaths were due to hunger or starvation.

In its election manifesto, the JMM had referred to starvation deaths. “Even today, Jharkhand is in the news across the world for its starvation deaths,” it had said.

Mr. Oraon said the government would not open a fresh probe into the deaths. “If such an incident happens, we will not try to hush it up as the previous government did. We are working to ensure that none is suffering from hunger.” In this year’s Budget, he said, it was proposed to give rations to additional 10 lakh people, with an allocation of ₹187 crore.

However, right-to-food activists, who played a key role in highlighting the irregularities in the Public Distribution System under the BJP, said the government’s denial of starvation deaths was “very unfortunate”.

“If a government runs in continuity, as claimed by the Minister, will they own up the irregularities committed by the previous government? By not acknowledging the issue, how you will address it,” asked Siraj Dutta, an activist. He alleged that the Budget presented by the JMM-Congress government did not address hunger and under-nutrition, including the exclusion caused by the Aadhaar-based system.

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Printable version | Oct 3, 2022 5:26:54 am |