Jharkhand CM Soren orders probe into first alleged hunger death case in his tenure

Ghasi was a member of the Scheduled Tribes community and was a resident of the Shankartola Kamra village. He passed away on March 6, post which Giridih MLA Sudhir Kumar tweeted about his death. A social worker alleged that Ghasi died of starvation.

Source: Sabrangindia.in

A day after Bhukhal Ghasi, a 40-year-old man who allegedly died of hunger in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district, Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Saturday directed the food and civil supplies secretary and deputy commissioner to carry out a probe into the matter.

Ghasi was a member of the Scheduled Tribes community and was a resident of the Shankartola Kamra village. He passed away on March 6, post which Giridih MLA Sudhir Kumar tweeted about his death. Ghasi’s wife, Rekha, told reporters that they hadn’t had food for the last few days as they did not have any ration. A social worker alleged that Ghasi died of starvation.

Jharkhand CM had tweeted the following saying that the guilty would not be spared.

The Times of India reported that as soon as the CM gave the order, Bokaro district officials visited Ghasi’s village and provided 20 kg of ration and a ration card to his family members. They however denied that Ghasi’s death had occurred due to hunger.

Speaking to TOI, Block Development Officer of Kasmar, Rajesh Kumar Sinha said, “Reports about (Ghasi’s) hunger death are completely false and driven by propaganda by a section of people. The clinical test by a medical board has shown that blood sugar levels of the deceased were normal, which cannot be the case if he had died of hunger. We also found food-grains in the house of the deceased during our visit on Saturday and there were enough traces to prove that food was cooked and consumed by the family on Friday. We have also taken video footage of food in the house.”

Sinha said that Ghasi’s brothers and other family members had testified that his death was not due to hunger, but due to illness. He said, “Since his return from Kasmar last year, Ghasi was bedridden and suffering from hydrothorax. Though a few family members tried to take him for RIMS (Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences) for treatment, he couldn’t be accompanied as there was no one to accompany him as an attendant. He had an MNREGA job card but had stopped availing work because of his health condition.”

It was reported that after the death of his parents, Ghasi had returned to his village last year from Bengaluru where he was working as a labourer. Ghasi is survived by five children, two sons who work as daily wagers and three daughters who study in the government school at the village. Sinha said that the Ghasis did not have a ration card, but were issued food grains till July last year on the card issued in the name of Ghasi’s late father. “In August, Ghasi had applied for a ration card which was pending approval. The district had reached saturation point for distribution of ration for the fiscal, hence, his card was pending,” said Sinha.

This is the first alleged starvation death under the new JMM-Congress-RJD government that took charge in December last year. When the NDA government was in charge in the state, the current alliance government had blamed previous CM Raghubar Das and his administration for over two dozen hunger related deaths.

However, in the Jharkhand Assembly, Finance Minister, Congress’ Rameshwar Oraon told CPI (ML) legislator Binod Singh that no one in the state had died due to hunger in the past five years.

Hunger deaths

To this, Jharkhand BJP spokesperson Pratul Shahdeo said, “When the JMM and Congress were in opposition, they regularly alleged that dozens of people had died of hunger under the Raghubar Das government and did politics over it. Now they have admitted that they used to speak a lie then.”

CPI (ML)’s Binod Singh said it was a fact that hunger related deaths had taken place in the state and that he would raise the issue in Parliament again.

It was recently reported that a study conducted by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) revealed that 90 percent of the ration cards cancelled by the State government in 2017, were actually genuine. And it was this cancellation of almost 7 lakh ration cards that triggered the starvation deaths, the study claimed. It was reported that 23 deaths took place due to starvation and non-availability of subsidized food grains from 2015 – 2019.

Firstpost reported that activists said it was possibly the lack of control over the bureaucracy that the current government had made a statement denying the hunger related deaths. Vivek, an activist with the Right to Food (RTF) campaign said, “It seems that the coalition partners (Congress and JMM) have not been able to assert authority over the bureaucracy as yet, which is why they’re possibly trying to shield the administration by making such statements.”

Siraj Dutta, another activist with the RTF campaign said that Oraon’s statement had now casted a shadow over the ‘pro-poor’ image that the alliance had painted during the election campaign. He said, “The irony is that the BJP, as the Opposition, won’t question the government regarding the statement either, because that would mean accepting that there had been starvation deaths during its tenure.”

Right to Food activists are now demanding that Soren must condemn and withdraw the statement and start implementing measures he had promised, in order to curb starvation deaths. They said that the current government must work hard to expand the coverage of the Public Distribution System (PDS) from 86 percent to 100 percent. They also expressed disappointment over the fact that the State budget presented by the Jharkhand Assembly did not address the hunger and malnutrition issue; a stark contrast on Soren’s statement when he said, “No one will die of hunger,” a day before he took office as the Chief Minister.

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