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Lens on hunger toll

Ranchi: Governor Droupadi Murmu has asked the state food and civil supplies department to set up grain banks in all panchayats and ensure that there was no lapse in distribution because of online interfaces created in the name of transparency, her directive coming in the wake of recent reports of suspected hunger deaths in the state.

Murmu, who held a meeting on Tuesday with department secretary Amitabh Kaushal at Raj Bhavan on Tuesday, is understood to have asked him about the ground realities of the public distribution system (PDS) in the state.

"This is for the first time that the governor has summoned officials to talk about suspected hunger deaths about which the media has been reporting," an official belonging to the Raj Bhavan communication wing said, adding that she had, however, held meetings in the past with officials on issues ranging from pathalgadi protests and education.

"The governor directed the department to identify individuals without ration cards and issue them cards on priority basis so that no one suffered from a food crisis. She also asked the secretary to ensure that online linking in the name of transparency did not affect foodgrain distribution," read a Raj Bhavan statement.

Kaushal, who was accompanied by Ramgarh deputy commissioner B. Rajeshwari, could not be contacted.

There have been at least six alleged starvation deaths in the state since September last year, beginning with Santoshi Kumari, an 11-year-old from Simdega. Thereafter, more deaths were reported from Dhanbad, Ramgarh and Deoghar. More recently, two women, one from Giridih and another from Chatra, died allegedly of starvation.

The state government has refused to accept these as hunger deaths pointing to instead, in most cases, prior ailments of the victims as the more probable reason behind their demise.

However, the government admitted lapses in the execution of PDS after food activists placed evidence of ration card anomalies centred around linking them with individual Aadhaar numbers that may have prevented the victims from collecting their rations.

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