The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hunger death onus on village heads

Patna, Dec. 8: The Rabri Devi government in Bihar has said it would hold the chiefs of the village bodies responsible for hunger deaths even while denying any such incident in the state of late.

In a decision taken last week, the government said it would hold the mukhia of a village accountable for any hunger death there.

More than 8,000 panchayat bodies in the state would each be provided with one quintal of foodgrain.

The meeting was convened in the wake of Supreme Court directives following a public interest litigation on starvation deaths in the state and allegations by Janata Dal(United) MP Nawal Kishore Rai in Parliament that three children had died of hunger in his constituency at Sitamarhi recently.

Like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Bihar government, too, tried to persuade the Opposition into believing that no one had died of starvation in the state. Now that the Bihar government has fixed accountability, Opposition leaders have begun questioning this claim.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav denied reports of hunger deaths but asked the government to plug loopholes in its public distribution system.

Early last month, 90 members of the Mushahar caste died in Motihari districtís Garhaiya village, allegedly of hunger.

After his visit to the village, a Congress minister in the Rabri Devi Cabinet denied that the deaths were caused either by malnutrition or hunger. However, he pointed out that the Mushahars were allotted kerosene instead of rice.

The government attributed the Sitamarhi deaths to an occult faith that made the head of a family keep the children hungry. When similar reports poured in from Munger, the government had claimed the deaths were due to diarrhoea.

Union civil supplies minister Sharad Yadav had recently alleged that the state was not lifting its entire allotment of foodgrain.

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