Bihar hunger deaths: lower level bureaucracy apathetic

Investigations into five hunger deaths in Jehanabad and Nalanda last week paint a disturbing picture of the lower-level bureaucracy in Bihar.

Since June 2008, not a single family at Rattu Bigha, a Maha Dalit hamlet, has received regular supply of foodgrains on its yellow (Antyodaya Anna Yojana) card which entitles it to 25 kg of rice or wheat at Rs. 2 (for 10 kg rice) and Rs. 3 (for 15 kg wheat). The coupons are lying with the villagers, as the dealer is claiming “shortage of foodgrains” and keeping the shop closed for most of the time.

Among the 75 households at Rattu Bigha are 51 families of Maha Dalits and 10 Dalit families. According to records obtained from the Block Development Office, the hamlet has 20 Antyodaya, 53 red and 2 Annapurna Yojana cards.

The villagers also alleged that they had to pay Rs. 25 extra whenever they went to collect their allotted rice/wheat. So, they end up paying Rs. 90 per 25 kg instead of Rs. 65.

One of the victims, Charittar Dom starved for 15 days before his death. His food cards — coupon no. 15938 for the period from June 2008 till May 2009 and no. 16133 from June 2009 till May 2010 — continue to remain with his kin as a sordid souvenir of his desperate condition.

Speaking to The Hindu over telephone, the newly appointed District Magistrate Palka Sahni said stern action would be taken against middlemen.

“It has been brought to my notice that the dealer had been absconding and I have already instructed the SDM to camp in the village,” said Ms. Sahni. Beneficiaries of the deceased were already identified, she said.

The DM said that as the foodgrains allotment last year was inadequate, many villagers were still left with their food coupons. Efforts were being made to identify the gaps and villagers were now being given foodgrains on priority.

No entries in NREGA cards

Another problem. No entries have been made in job cards issued under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Charittar Dom’s job card reads: card no. 0079, issued 2.02.2006, workday entries: 0. Dom died jobless though he was given the card in February, more than three winters ago.

While Dom was fortunate enough to get a job card, Kunti Devi (who died on August 11) and Janardhan Mahto (entered as Singh in his voter ID card), who died on August 13, were without one.

The villagers complained that Rs. 30 was taken from every Maha Dalit family at Rattu Bigha to get photos of its members taken.

This is again a violation by officials, as it is the Government of India which is supposed to bear the expenses for photos of NREGA cardholders.

Relief amount was not given

Apart from Charittar Dom, none of the deceased ever utilised the benefits under the Indira Awas Yojana.

According to Dom’s wife, the BDO gave only Rs. 10,000 under the scheme, instead of Rs. 35,000. As a result, the bricks are still lying in Dom’s hut.

However, there is no entry in his passbook (no.4290), issued by a local Punjab National Bank branch of his having ever received the amount, as it was directly handed over to him.

Under the Kabir Antyeshti Yojana, family members of the deceased are entitled to Rs. 1,500 for performing last rites. Block officials are supposed to hand over this amount to the kin of the deceased immediately after the death.

But at Rattu Bigha, officials had not done so until a hunger monitoring committee comprising representatives of NGOs reached the village and brought the matter to their notice.

Speaking to The Hindu on Saturday, the BDO gave the assurance that the benefits would be given to the family of the deceased and that “National Family Benefit Scheme forms, under which the kin of the deceased breadwinner will be given Rs.10,000, had been sent to the higher-ups for sanction. But they were held up due to bypolls.”

Same story in Nalanda

Similar story plays out in the remote “tola” of Jhama D in Nalanda, where Phulmati Devi died with her one-year-old child Sugan on Wednesday. There are 35 Maha Dalit Musahar families and 40 Dalit (Paswan) families in this tiny village.

According to Shravan Manjhi, Phulmati’s husband, he was hurriedly issued a backdated job card (no.950, dated 15.05.09) by block officials after his wife’s death. Understandably, it remains blank.

Villagers say that the dealer is hoarding rice and the ‘Mukhiya’ turns a blind eye.

In the Rs. 23, 071-crore allocation sought by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar from the Centre, Rs. 10,845 crore has been sought for employment generation under the NREGA and other schemes.

But, there seems to be no explanation of the shoddy implementation of the NREGA in the State as breadwinners of the BPL families continue to go jobless. Moreover, the government needs to ensure that foodgrains reach the poorest Maha Dalit family, lest the much-touted schemes remain only on paper. While the villagers continue to be steeped in ignorance, the question is how many more families should continue to suffer in the remote interiors for the government to sit up and haul up erring middlemen.

The Hindu, August 23, 2009


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