A girl, 5, living in Latehar in Jharkhand, died. The family didn’t have ration or a ration card

For the past two months, the mother of the child had been asking for ration from the neighbours to feed her family as the father was away stuck at a brick kiln due to the lockdown

Anand Dutta
| Updated: Last updated on May 21st, 2020,

On May 16, five-year-old Nimmi Kumari died in Jharkhand’s Latehar district. Renowned economist Jean Dreze has alleged that the girl and her family had not eaten for two days because there was nothing more to cook in their house. The family lives in Hesatu village in Latehar district, 154 kms away from the Ranchi district headquarters.

Kalawati Devi, the mother of the girl, said that her husband is a labourer at a brick kiln in Latehar and could not come home for two months because of the lockdown. Two children lived with the husband on the brick kiln while six lived in the village with Kalawati. After Nimmi’s death, there are now a total of seven children left in the family, apart from the husband and wife. 

Noted economist Jean Dreze alleged that the house where a five-year-old girl died has had no food for two days. For two months, the mother of the child had been asking and arranging ration from the neighbours to feed her family while the father was away stuck at a brick kiln due to the lockdown. This dalit family does not have a ration card and so could not get any ration.

After the lockdown was announced, the Hemant Soren government in Jharkhand had announced that ten kilos of food grains would be given per month for the next three months even to those who don’t have a ration card. Following this, the ration was distributed in several districts in the state. However, Jean Dreze said: “The order was given, but the fact remains that there are a large number of people without (ration) cards who have not been given ration. There are many such cases in the Latehar district.”

Kalawati’s house has two rooms and a broken roof. Except for some utensils, bedding and a tattered mosquito net, there are no other items in their home. She said: “Nimmi was not ill, but she suddenly fell sick in the evening a day before yesterday (May 16) and died a little later. She had vomited a day earlier.”

The sub-divisional magistrate of Latehar, Sagar Kumar, who was present at the site, informed: “The girl was bathing in a nearby pond with her siblings. Since then, her health had deteriorated which lead to her death.”

District magistrate Zeeshan Qamar said: “At the moment, it cannot be established as a case of death due to starvation. The girl’s medical examination has been done. We would be able to inform something only after the report comes.”

Jean Dreze had visited the family a day after Nimmi’s death. He said: “I have asked the BDO (block development officer) and other officials about the provision of ration for those who do not have ration cards. No officer has provided me the information on this. There was not a single grain of grain or ration card with this family.”

At the time of death, Nimmi’s father Jaglal Bhuiyan was not at home. He said that for the past few months, he was working with his two children at a kiln at Sukulhoot in Latehar district. “Last time, he had been to the home for Holi only to return thereafter to the kiln.”

According to Kalawati, she had approached the pradhan of Doki Panchayat, Parvati Devi, for ration several times, but did not get it. The pradhan pati (husband of the pradhan) had said that the ration quota for people like Kalawati was over. However, after the death of the girl, the BDO came to them with ration.

Gopal Oraon, husband of Donki Panchayat pradhan, Parvati Devi, said: “Ration was not given to them. The budget that I had was over. How could have I given when there was no allocation?” Pradhan had written an application to BDO requesting for the second installment.

The Hemant Soren government was sworn in on December 27 last year. Siraj Dutta, a social activist associated with the right to food campaign, said: “This is the eighth case of starvation death since December. Earlier, Rampreet Bhuiyan and Shanti Devi of Garhwa, Bhukhal Ghasi of Bokaro, Upasi Devi of Ramgarh, Somaria Devi of Garhwa, Meena Marandi of Bokaro and Jaglal Manjhi of Bokaro have died of starvation. However, the government has not officially admitted all these deaths to be starvation deaths.”

 A total of 22 starvation deaths were reported under the erstwhile Raghubar Das government. There had been an enquiry into each of the cases. Hemant Soren dismissed all the cases as soon as he assumed power. In a reply to the Assembly, the government said that there is not a single starvation death in the state. 

During the last Assembly session, the MLA of Bagodar, Vinod Singh, had raised questions relating to food security. The reply given by the Department of Food Supplies stated that the National Food Security Act is in force in the state since October 2015. It had targeted to link 2.6 crore people. At present, 99.60 per cent of the people are currently being provided with food grains.

Nearly, 2.5 crore people in Jharkhand have been linked to the Food Security Act. But the government is not responding as per the population increase in the last ten years. As per the report released by NITI Aayog, Jharkhand ranks first across the country in the Hunger Index; 37 per cent of the state’s people is living below the national standard of the poverty line.

The Aam Aadmi Party leader Rajan Kumar had filed public interest litigation in the High Court in response to which the government said on April 25, that 7.2 lakh ration cards were pending. Among these, 32,492 families had applied during the lockdown. Rajan said that for the first time, the government has given 10 kg ration to 2.6 lakh people till April 27. At the second hearing held on May 5, the government had informed that about 50 per cent of the people have been provided ration by the government.

It was also said that one of the main reasons for such a situation is the list of PDS (public distribution system) cardholders being based on the 2011 census. While informing the court that it has completed 99 per cent of its target of rationing 86 per cent of its villagers and 60 per cent of the urban population under the Food Security Act, the state government is treating the 2011 population as the basis for the fact that the state government, and is withholding the fact that the state’s population was 3.3 crore in 2011 and is currently at least 3.8 crore. According to today’s population, there are 40-50 lakh eligible people in the state who are kept outside the purview of the public distribution system.

In the entire episode, the opposition party, the BJP, has attacked the JMM and the Congress coalition government. State president Deepak Prakash demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter. There are persistent starvation deaths during the Hemant Soren government. This government has become totally insensitive to this issue.