Hunger claims five lives

Government aid too late for family in Orissa’s tribal district  

 
By Ashutosh Mishra
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageEighty-year-old  Champo Bariha, a resident of Chabripali village in the tribal district of Balangir, gets Rs 200 a month as old age pension and 25 kg subsidized rice that below poverty line (bpl) families are allocated. It was too little for his family of seven to survive on. Champo’s wife, Minji (70) died on December 17. Before that his son, wife and children died one after the other beginning September.

Champo’s 10-month-old granddaughter died on September 6; the girl’s three-year-old brother died the next day and their mother, Bimla (35), died on September 9. The father of the children Jhintu (50) died in October. Jhintu was dependent on his old father as he could not find work. Electric shock had partially paralyzed his left hand and leg three years back when he was working as a labourer in Chhattisgarh. He worked for a while in Andhra Pradesh but had returned home in June, 2009. He soon ran out of the little money he had saved.

“The family could not manage two meals a day. It was obvious they were suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” said PK Panigrahy, the executive officer of Bhanpur panchayat that administers Chabripali.

Sameet Panda, a researcher who visited the village said he was convinced chronic hunger and malnutrition led to the deaths.
   

Panda works for the state advisor to commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court to monitor public food distribution schemes.

Inquiries revealed that Jhintu’s name did not figure in the bpl list as it has not been revised since 1997. So, he could not avail the benefit that bpl cardholders get—25 kg rice a month at Rs 2 per kg. The family often went without food and survived on a little rice, spinach and salt.


Cover-up

The administration swung into action too late. A medical team from the district headquarters reached the village only after they received report of the third death. The chief medical officer of Balangir, Purna Chandra Sahu, said villagers told the visiting doctors the children were suffering from cough and fever. He said the children could have died of pneumonia or acute respiratory infection though malnutrition could have aggravated their condition. Bimla was suffering from malaria and was also found to be anaemic, said Sahu. He said malnutrition and loss of her children could have worsened her condition.

Jhintu did get medical attention but did not survive. His mother died at the Balangir district hospital where she was taken in a critical condition. The chief medical officer said Minji was suffering from pneumonia and anaemia.

After the initial deaths, the district administration granted old age pension to Minji too and issued an above poverty line ration card to Jhintu. The help came too late.

The district administration now refuses to acknowledge the deaths were due to starvation. The area block development officer, Chandramani Seth, conceded that the family was suffering from acute poverty and malnutrition. But he said Jhintu and his parents were provided food cooked in the local anganwadi from September 11 onwards. A sum of Rs 10,000 was deposited in a bank for Jhintu under the family benefit scheme and an additional sum of Rs 5,000 was deposited in the account as advance under a welfare housing scheme.

Jhintu used the Rs 5,000 for performing the last rites of his wife and children. Champo Bariha is now living with his younger son. A non-profit is taking care of Jhintu’s surviving son.

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