The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Starvation salvo at govt

New Delhi, Oct. 25: A team of non-government organisations and civil rights groups probing starvation deaths in Rajasthan has severely indicted the state government and local administration for refusing to take steps that could have saved 18 lives, including those of 11 children.

The report, compiled by Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Sankalp and Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, stated: “Mothers of the dead children told us they had died of acute stomach pain and vomiting. The stomach pain could be due to eating poisonous, stale and wrong food items, resulting in colic, indigestion and release of toxins.”

The Ashok Gehlot government has been stubbornly denying that the deaths were caused by starvation. A team of doctors instead claimed that the children had succumbed to diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia and kidney infection. “Since the government statement itself says the children were not taken to hospital, how can they (the doctors) claim that the children did not suffer from malnourishment or the deaths were not caused from eating poisonous wild greens'” wonders the investigating team.

Its report stresses that the hunger deaths were caused due to continuing malnutrition, lack of livelihood sources, collapse of the public distribution system, absence of public health system and failure of the administration to rectify the situation.

The report also alleges that the state government paid no attention to the Sahariya tribe, considered the most vulnerable group in Rajasthan and one of those most affected by the inclement weather that took a heavy toll on their meagre sources of sustenance.

According to the investigating team, less than 30 per cent of rainfall had destroyed the livelihood of the tribe, which lives a hand-to-mouth existence.

“They were left to fend for themselves with hardly any state intervention coming to their rescue, hardly any employment or free grain,” said the report. The stronger among them searched the forest for roots of a herb called “shalavri”, which they peeled, dried and then sold at the rate of Rs 5 to 6 a kg. “People were also boiling and drying ‘amla’ and bartering it,” informed the report.

It further said that the poor health of children points to the weak public health system in Rajasthan. According to the Unicef, one-third of the children in the state is born undernourished and, by the time they are five years old, another one-third suffer from malnourishment. Thus, a total of two-thirds of children aged five years are malnourished.

There are also almost no government ventures that are expected to provide employment. “No works were initiated in Sawaans village in the months of September and October. This, despite the fact that a Gram Sabha passed a resolution to begin government works on October 2,” said the report.

The state administration, however, has claimed that workers have been employed on government sites. “We would like to ask the government who were these 100 people who got work on the relief sites,” says the report. “The sarpanch himself said there were hardly any government works in Sawaans in September.”

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