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5 lakh in grip of starvation-like condition: Survey

Krishnagar, Sept. 28: Nearly five lakh people in the state live in “starvation-like” con-dition, a government survey has shown, prompting it to offer at least one meal a day to each of them.

Junior panchayat and rural development minister Bankim Ghosh said the plan was to give cooked food as in primary schools, where children get mid-day meals.

“We will serve them cooked food at least once a day. We thought why can’t we provide these poor people at least one meal like we do to the schoolchildren to check dropouts,” said Ghosh.

The report showed “nearly five lakh people, most of them over 60 years of age, are living in a starvation-like situation without a proper meal or medical treatment”, the minister said. Of them, some three lakh are from Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore, Birbhum, Cooch Behar, North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia.

Ghosh said panchayats would manage the scheme with self-help groups. “The food may be distributed door to door or the people identified for the scheme may be asked to come to a square to eat,” said Ghosh.

Whether the meals will be served once or twice a day will depend on the condition of the family.

Panchayat department special secretary Dilip Ghosh, who was part of the stu-dy that began in April 2007, said: “These people not only need food but also shelter, clothes and medicine. These problems should also be addressed.”

Ironically, the same panchayats whom Dilip Ghosh accused of “neglecting the poorest of poor” would be handling the scheme to alleviate their suffering.

“The panchayats often fail to provide help available under various central schemes,” he said.

Bengal’s record in ensuring 100 days’ work for every rural household under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is among the worst.

Every time there has been a starvation death — in Naxalite-infested Bankura, Purulia and West Midnapore or the tea gardens of the north — officials have tried to pass it off as one caused by other ailments, ignoring that the diseases resulted from malnutrition.

The minister said the decision to conduct the survey was taken following reports that a section of people was living without food, often neglected by family members struggling to cope with their own poverty.

“Those with BPL (below poverty line) cards are not getting their foodgrain because of unscrupulous ration dealers,” he said.

What the survey says

Nearly 5 lakh people starving

Most of them over 60

3 lakh from Purulia, Bankura, West Midnapore, Birbhum, Cooch Behar, North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia

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