The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Woman dies, family blames hunger
- Amlashol death precedes CM visit to hand over houses

Midnapore, Feb. 24: Days before Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's visit to Bengal's impoverished western belt, a 30-year-old tribal woman has died in Amlashol. Her family claimed that she hadn't had anything to eat for a month.

The death of Parbati Shabar, a mother of three, on Saturday reopens a wound inflicted on Bengal's consciousness last year when the chief minister admitted that 'conditions of starvation' prevailed in some of the remote areas of West Midnapore after reports of five hunger deaths in Amlashol over four months.

Bhattacharjee's government had promised to lend a helping hand to the deprived people, particularly the tribals, but it has failed to touch the lives of Parbati, her husband and their three hungry children.

'Ma did not have a morsel to eat over the last one month' she had fever and had bloated up terribly, but there was no one who could help us with a bit of food to eat,' said a weeping Srimati, Parbati's eight-year-old daughter.

Tears also rolling down his cheeks, Sanatan, too feeble even to talk, mumbled: 'I tried my best' but could not arrange for food for my wife' she had to die like this'

The lack of care is evident in the fact that Nathu, Parbati's father-in-law, was among the five who had died last year. The minister of state for Paschim Anchal Unnayan affairs, Maheswar Murmu, and the district administration had vehemently denied that starvation had caused the deaths and blamed them on illness.

The officials' version hadn't changed much today. Belpahari block development officer Subhashis Bej said: 'She died of illness. We have distributed cards to everyone in Amlashol against which they can get food free of cost. The food is being offered under the central government-sponsored Antodaya scheme.'

The block medical officer (health), Hiralal Bishoi, threw up his hands. 'Every week, we send our mobile medical units to the remote areas of Amlashol. If anyone is ill and does not go to the doctor, what can we do'

The attempts to play down the cause behind the death gain ground as Saturday approaches, when Bhattacharjee is scheduled to visit Lohamela in Jhargram, close to Amlashol, to hand over houses to 27 poor Lodha families.

Ironically, the programme is part of schemes the government has undertaken to improve the lives of the poor tribals and make up for the embarrassment that the Amlashol deaths had brought.

In all, it plans to construct 2,000 dwelling units.

It is also driven by the fact that Naxalites have been trying the utmost to exploit the poverty of the tribals and turn them against the Left Front.

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