Hazaribagh, Sept.15: A 40-year-old mother of two died of starvation at Hazaribagh Sadar Hospital this morning, two days after her daughter died of the same reason at their village home 7km from district headquarters, in a country where National Food Security Bill, 2013, received Presidential assent on September 10.
Despite so-called safety nets — existing flagship welfare provisions such as BPL card, MGNREGS and a host of other subsidy, pension, assistance, self-help group formation for livelihoods — of the Centre and state, the sieve of administrative apathy ensured Mosamat Geeta (40), a widow of Shekha village, Amnari panchayat, got nothing.
Hunger whittled Geeta’s family of three — she had a daughter Sangeeta (12) and a son Bangaru Kumar (6) — to one survivor, but famished Bangaru still battling death at sadar hospital.
Sadar block development officer (BDO) Sweta Vaidya confirmed Geeta died of hunger.
“She died of hunger and my hands were tied due to government norms,” said the BDO. “There was no provision to help a woman who was neither in the category of BPL families nor old enough for pension. Aisi stithi mein kya main ussey apne pocket se madad karti (Should I have helped her out of my own pocket)?” she asked.
Ward member Dileep Kumar Das, Geeta’s neighbour, said the family was struggling for survival since 2011.
“Geeta’s husband Sarju Ravidas, a daily wage labourer, died of tuberculosis, leaving her with two children. Geeta started working as a daily wage labourer but failed to get work regularly. Villagers helped the family but her condition went on deteriorating,” he said.
Mukhiya of Amnari, Anup Kumar said he had helped the woman a “number of times seeing their miserable condition”.
“Last winter, I saw the children shivering without blankets. I provided them clothes and blankets,” he said.
Admitting lack of foodgrain at Geeta’s house, Anup said he spoke to BDO Vaidya on the morning of September 10. “She asked me to approach panchayat sewak Jaleshwar Ohdar who promised to arrange 15kg of foodgrain. We came with foodgrain but late on Friday night, Sangeeta died. We rushed Geeta and Bangaru to sadar hospital,” he said.
After the starvation death and the sudden media glare, BDO Vaidya and Amnari mukhiya Anup are trading charges. BDO Vaidya claimed she asked Anup to ensure a job card for Geeta under MGNREGS, which he refused to do.
Anup refuted Vaidya’s charges and claimed he contacted block officials “a number of times but the hapless woman got no help”. “We will take up this matter at different levels to highlight official negligence in this case. But we don’t know what will be Bangaru’s fate. He has no one to take care of him now.”
The UPA government’s food-security-for-all promise will have to plug administrative sloth and graft to put the Geetas inside the loop.
While middle and upper middle classes worry about obesity and diets, India ranks 15th on list of top 57 hungry countries according to the 2012 Global Hunger Index report released by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington. India is sandwiched between Mozambique and Madagascar, while Bangladesh is placed at No. 12 and Pakistan at No. 22.
UN World Food Programme report stated over 27 per cent of the world’s undernourished live in India, of whom 43 per cent children (under five years) are underweight, far higher than the global average of 25 per cent and sub-Sahara African 28 per cent. Nearly 50 per cent of child deaths in India occur due to malnutrition.