Patna, Sept. 25: A 55-year-old tea vendor’s death in Saharsa has raised questions about the Nitish Kumar government’s public distribution system with villagers alleging the man, who suffered from tuberculosis, died of starvation.
The body of Natho Swarnkar was found in his home at Baijnathpur village — in Saur Bazar block of Saharsa district, 200km northeast of Patna — yesterday morning.
“I found Swarnkar’s body at his home around 9.45am on Tuesday. He died of starvation, unable to afford the foodgrain available in the market. I informed the district magistrate about the death,” village headman (mukhiya) Pankaj Kumar told The Telegraph.
He said Swarnkar lived a lonely life as his only son had abandoned him. “Even the tea stall he ran shut down abruptly,” Kumar said.
According to the mukhiya, 900 of the 5,000 people in his village belonged to the below poverty line (BPL) group. Their families are to get 15kg of rice and 10kg of wheat every month under the BPL scheme. “But for the past three months, the PDS dealer has been saying that stocks have not been given to him,” he said.
Saharsa district magistrate Shashi Bhushan refuted the charge of starvation death. “I had sent a team to the village. They found Swarnkar was ill for the last three days and died of tuberculosis,” he said.
Some villagers concede Swarnkar suffered from tuberculosis. “But the tuberculosis was detected seven months ago,” pointed out a villager.
Officials said the death should serve as an eye-opener for the government. “It is immaterial whether Swarnkar died of hunger or of tuberculosis. It remains a fact that he did not get either foodgrain or medicines from the government hospital,” said an IAS officer, who did not wish to be named.
District magistrate Bhushan said he was yet to check if foodgrain meant for BPL families was reaching the village. “Swarnkar had lifted foodgrain from the PDS shop on June 13. I have to check if he lifted foodgrain from the shop after that date,” he said.
The government, which has been battling charges of tardy foodgrain distribution to the poor levelled by the Opposition RJD and BJP, said it would take action if the charges were proved. Food and consumer protection minister Shyam Rajak said: “According to documents available before me, foodgrain had been distributed till the month of August. If anybody can prove that foodgrain was not distributed despite the deceased person having a coupon, I will take action against officials and dealers.”
Swarnkar’s body was cremated on Tuesday itself without any post-mortem being conducted. This has further enraged the villagers.
Under the state government’s PDS system, 15kg of rice and 10kg of wheat is provided to the BPL population — 1.37 crore families, which amounts to over half of Bihar’s population — every month through its chain of around 60,000 PDS shops.
But there are charges of rampant corruption. Foodgrain meant for the poor is allegedly diverted to traders. Thanks to an unholy nexus between officials and PDS dealers, the poorest of the poor have allegedly been denied foodgrain for months.