Calcutta, June 15: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may admit to conditions of starvation in Amlashol and beyond but his minister, Maheswar Murmu, will not.
A day after the chief minister said poverty and hunger prevailed in several pockets of Bengal, the minister of state for development of the backward western region asserted that there were no starvation deaths but only natural resources, cattle and pots brimming with rice.
Five people have died, allegedly of starvation, in the West Midnapore village in four months.
At Writers’ Buildings, Murmu today said: “The deaths were caused by illness, not starvation. Two of them died of jaundice.” Asked about the ailments of the other three, he asked: “Am I a doctor that I would know'”
The other three had tuberculosis, a condition aggravated by malnutrition.
Yesterday, Bhattacharjee had said: “There is no use elaborating on what these people died of, especially since there is no guarantee that such deaths will not be repeated.”
But in a complete contrast to the chief minister’s statement that the area was very backward and devoid of natural resources, Murmu claimed Amlashol was richer than many parts of West Midnapore.
Following Bhattacharjee’s instruction, Murmu visited Amlashol over the weekend.
“It’s not a place where someone could starve to death. They have a lot of natural resources, like Babui grass, round the year. The grass is used to make ropes that fetch the tribals Rs 10 per kg. This apart, every household raises cattle and livestock. Most families I visited had raised 18 to 25 goats,” Murmu said.
Asked if the families of the five dead were prosperous, he replied in the affirmative. “The teenagers I saw in the area were well dressed and even wore watches. They told me they played cricket and watched television in Kankrajhore,” the minister said, in a virtual negation of what his chief had said yesterday.
Murmu refused to believe Bhattacharjee had admitted that starvation conditions prevailed in the area. “You have made that up. He (the chief minister) must have said ‘poverty’ and the media distorted it to ‘starvation’,” he said.
Murmu claimed that he saw cooking pots brimming with rice on the boil in most households he visited. “I asked the local children if food was cooked in their homes that day and they said yes. When I asked if they had eaten the day before, they again replied in the affirmative.”
On CPM legislator Kailash Muda’s written statement that the deaths were caused by starvation, Murmu said he had exaggerated in the hope that it would fetch more aid for the area.
The chief minister had said mobile medical vans had failed to make it to many remote areas. Murmu said the vans visited the area once a week and now the medical teams have been asked to go there twice a week. Murmu added: “The Paschimanchal Unnayan Parishad has spent about Rs 10 crore in development projects last year.”