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Apathy shuts food window
- Free grain eludes 50 per cent of primitive tribes

Ranchi, Sept. 3: On November 15, 2008, then chief minister Shibu Soren made a landmark announcement — free foodgrain for all primitive tribes.

Cut to the present. More than 50 per cent such families are still battling hunger, courtesy administrative apathy.

The free foodgrain scheme, though declared last year, kicked off this January after the state sanctioned a sum of Rs 30 crore.

Nine months down the line, the benefits are limited to red and yellow card-holders. Notwithstanding a 2003 Supreme Court order that makes listing primitive tribes in the poverty category mandatory, few tribal families in the state find place in the BPL list.

According to statistics available with the Jharkhand State Tribal Research Institute, there are 40,000 primitive tribe families, their population largely concentrated in the Santhal Pargana districts.

While Pakur has over 9900 families, Sahebbganj has 10,000; Godda, Dumka and Deoghar have 2,000, 8,000 and 1,000, respectively.

Shiv Charan Malto, a social activist spearheading the cause of deprived families in Santhal Pargana, says a majority of the primitive tribals are not able to claim benefits under the scheme.

The situation is similar in other districts, like Ranchi and Gumla, where the concentration of primitive tribes is insignificant.

“Though the scheme, launched by Soren in the capacity of chief minister, did not limit grain benefits to red and yellow card-holders, the reality is harsh. In Pakur, Sahebganj, Godda, Dumka and Deoghar, more than 50 per cent families are not being given free grain,” Malto said.

Soren had announced free grain distribution among primitive tribes after several people from socially backward communities allegedly died of hunger in Chatra district last year. Last month, after the entire state was declared drought-hit, the state started distributing free grain, albeit among red and yellow card-holders.

When contacted, adviser to the governor T.P. Sinha, who is also in charge of welfare and food & civil supplies departments, said he was unaware of such discrepancies in the implementation of the scheme. He asserted that free grain was also being distributed among primitive tribes. “If any particular family has any complaint, I will examine the matter and take appropriate action,” Sinha told The Telegraph.

Malto, however, refuse to buy Sinha’s version. “When deputy commissioners of the districts concerned know about such irregularities, is it possible that the higher-ups are unaware?” he said. A district official in Gumla, requesting anonymity, admitted that most primitive tribes were deprived of benefits. “In Gumla, free grain distribution among such families started as late as August,” he said, hinting that the situation was possibly worse in Santhal Pargana.

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