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Hunger death cry on food day

Calcutta, Oct. 16: A worker of a closed Jalpaiguri tea garden died of malnutrition-related ailments, an anti-hunger campaigner claimed on World Food Day today, swivelling the spotlight on alleged starvation deaths in Bengal.

According to Anuradha Talwar, Jayanto Suri’s death after a month-long illness capped 13 deaths from similar causes since the Trinamul government took over last year. But state food minister Jyotipriya Mullick denied any starvation deaths.

The disclosures came as NGOs and volunteers of the nationwide Right to Food Campaign held rallies in Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh over the past fortnight, culminating in one at Jamshedpur today.

Talwar insisted the death of 55-year-old Suri, who worked at the Dheklapara garden in the Dooars that has been closed for months, was because of starvation.

“Suffering from hunger-induced ailments, he fell ill a month ago. But he could not bear the expenses of his treatment. The irony that he died on World Food Day should dawn on our governments and policy-makers,” said Talwar, who had investigated hunger deaths in tea gardens in the past decade as a Supreme Court-appointed adviser.

Trinamul, then in the Opposition, had welcomed the probe, as had Left Front constituent RSP. But the then CPM-led Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government had denied such deaths.

Talwar claimed eight other workers had died of starvation in Dheklapara since December 2011 and three in the Kumlai tea estate, also in Jalpaiguri district, after the management “abandoned” the gardens. West Midnapore and Purulia saw one such death each, she said.

Food minister Mullick, who has visited the two tea estates, blamed the deaths on “prolonged illness”.

“We have increased distribution of subsidised food and medical check-ups for the workers of both gardens,” Mullick said.

Today, the government distributed 5kg of grain each to 5,000 poor families in all districts to commemorate World Food Day, Mullick added.