The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pressure to save Gehlot face in hunger probe

Jaipur, Nov. 19: Additional chief secretary R.K. Nair, who was asked to inquire into the starvation deaths of Sahariya tribals, seems to be at his wits end after the Union food ministry’s fact-finding team confirmed the cause was hunger.

Nair, who also happens to be Rajasthan home secretary, was entrusted with the task two days before the Congress’ Mount Abu conclave, held more than 10 days ago. He is yet to submit his report.

What has added to his discomfiture is that at least four inquiries have been conducted into the deaths. His would be the fifth. The first report was submitted by the Kota divisional commissioner. It was followed by fresh inquiries by three senior IAS officers — health secretary Parmesh Chandra, food secretary Umrao Salodia and social welfare secretary Salauddin Ahmed.

Nair knew the constraints within which he had to work as chief minister Ashok Gehlot did not like some of the embarrassing observations by the IAS officers. What they said implied that if the deaths were not due to starvation, they were certainly due to “half hunger” or partial starvation. The findings were never made public.

There was no respite for the government as, by that time, the Mount Abu conclave had drawn near. To pre-empt any embarrassment at the conclave, the Nair committee was set up. Sources say Nair is under tremendous pressure to submit a report which saves the face of the government.

Gehlot, who was in Delhi yesterday to brief Congress MPs on the issue, was reportedly “advised” by Ambika Soni, political secretary to party chief Sonia Gandhi, to improve his media management, especially the national media.

Sources said several senior Congress leaders in Rajasthan feel that the chief minister as well as senior ministers should go on intensive tour of the drought-hit areas, as was the practice during earlier party-ruled regimes.

Last month, Gehlot had accompanied Sonia when the Congress chief visited the worst affected western districts. After that, he has visited only the Sahariya tribal belt in Baran district from where the starvation deaths were reported. It was a one-day visit on Diwali, four days ahead of the Mount Abu meet.

Even Governor Anshuman Singh has visited villages in Jaipur and adjoining Tonk district after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam sought a report from him on the drought situation in the state and the starvation deaths. Kalam also expressed his desire to visit the drought-hit areas.

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