| Ratan and Kamali Choudhury in front of their hut. Picture by Surajit Roy
Malda, Jan. 4: The death of a 42-year-old woman from starvation has stirred the district administration into action.
Nekia Chowdhury died on Monday at Naranpurchar, an island on the Ganga, in the Manikchak police station area around 40 km from here. She has been going without a square meal for months, her neighbours said.
Sandip Nag, the block development officer of Manikchak, while admitting that Nekia died of starvation, has sent relief to the poverty-stricken area. “It seems to be a case of starvation. I first came to know about it from the media. But the panchayat pradhan did not inform me,” Nag said.
In an area where around 500 families live below the poverty line (BPL), villagers collected money to perform the last rites, as the family did not have the means to pay for the funeral.
Another couple, Ratan and Kamali Choudhury, in the adjoining settlement is suffering from severe malnutrition. Villagers claimed that their days, too, are numbered.
“Nekia and her husband, Badri had visited the block development office several times for aid but were turned back without any assurance,” said Murali Chowdhury, the local panchayat member.
“Naranpurchar tops the list of the 28 most poverty-stricken villages in Malda district. The char is spread over 15 square kilometres and there are more than 500 BPL families in the two settlements of Bechutola and Dhoraitola,” Murali said.
Sitting in front of his hut, Badri recounted: “My wife was suffering from anaemia due to lack of nutrition. I did not have money to feed her, leave alone take her to a doctor. We somehow managed with a little help from our neighbours, who, too, cannot afford two square meals a day. But we could not save her.”
Dinnath Chowdhury, another villager, said though there were many able-bodied men on the island, there was no work to do. “There was a time when we had fought to retain the island for Bengal. It was about to be annexed to Jharkhand,” said Chowdhury.
Many villagers complained that despite living below the poverty line, their names had not been included in the BPL list. “There is no effort on the part of the district administration to introduce the 100-day employment guarantee scheme here,” one of the villagers complained.
A report prepared by the district administration reveals that there are 450 children in the two settlements, but there are no schools or subsidiary health centres on the island.
District magistrate Chittaranjan Das said this was the first time he was hearing about the incident. “I have sought a detailed report from the block development officer,” Das said.