Jharkhand Starvation Death: How Systematic Failure Pushed 64-Yr-Old To Death
64-year-old Ramchandra Munda of Latehar district in Jharkhand passed away on June 5. A fact-finding team’s ground report has revealed that Munda became the victim of abject poverty, starvation and lapses in the systems like Public Distribution System, MGNREGA.
64-Yr-Old Dies Of Starvation
On June 8, 2019, a team from Right To Food (RTF) campaign, Jharkhand, including Mr. Balram, Mr. Ashrfi Nand Prasad, Ms. Piyalee Bose, Mr. Dheeraj, Father David Soloman, and Mr. Aakash Ranjan visited Lurgumi Kalan village of Durup Panchayat in Mahuadand subdivision of Latehar district, Jharkhand, for fact-finding of the alleged starvation death of an elderly, Late Ramcharan Munda (64 years).
The team was accompanied by Ms. Afsana from the RTF campaign (she joined the team in Mahuadand and led the team to the victim’s home) who is apparently the first one to bring the entire incident into the limelight that caught the media attention and exposed the lapses in the PDS and district authority’s callousness in addressing this grave issue and the consequent event.
The fact-finding team’s investigation found that Munda’s death was a result of an amalgamation of multiple factors, arising out from systematic failure on various fronts.
Munda lived in a two-room mud hut with his wife. He is survived by his wife Chamri Devi, and two daughters- Subha Devi and Sunila Devi. The elder daughter lives in Mahuadand. The younger daughter is living in Dumri away from her parents. The elder daughter is suffering from TB. The couple had a son who died at the age of 17 due to TB around 15 years ago.
There are two toilets constructed, under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) – Grameen, in the immediate vicinity of the hut belonging to their relatives but the family doesn’t own one.
Munda’s entire village was not distributed ration from the last two months. The third month being June 2019. As a consequence of this serious system lapse, this particular family plunged into a crisis situation, suffering the most as two elderly people were living on their own, with nothing to earn, eat and no one to look after or take care of them. It may be noted that the family has a PH ration card (No.: 202004690268) under the Public Distribution System (PDS) but has not been getting ration since April 2019.
The reason behind the occurrence of this kind of blunder in the PDS is the allocation of the online distribution system for this particular village dealer, wherein the village has no internet connectivity. The current dealer, Meena Devi, was reallocated with the responsibility after her husband died three months ago, the husband being the previous dealer. In that process, the new system allocation went from offline to online, the only one in the entire block.
The family and the immediate neighbours and relatives complained that the dealer did not give away the ration but also agreed that Meena Devi made efforts on her part to go through the system to get the conversion done from online to an offline system, but the higher authorities did not take any further steps to address the issue.
No Source Of Income
Despite having a job card, which was made back in 2006 (MGNREGA Job Card No.: JH06/00445), Munda never got work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme. The trend is same throughout the village.
He used to engage in daily wage labour but due to age and much less to eat on a daily basis since past two months, he became quite weaker and started living at home, bedridden, from approximately past two weeks when he complained of uneasiness and bloated stomach. His wife, in order to take care of him, also could not venture out of home for any kind of work. Chamri Devi also stated that there have been days when Ramcharan Munda went out to work empty stomach and laboured that way.
The family has 50 decimal of land to itself that has been mortgaged 15 years ago to a local moneylender named Amardeep Nayak, in return for the money taken on loan by Ramcharan Munda for the treatment of his son. The land is still to be redeemed as full payment is yet to be done. It is at that time that the family also sold its bullock. So, the family has no land to work on, sell produce, or grow food for own consumption. So they were completely dependent on labour-based wage earning. He would work at the brick kiln work in Mahuaband, where he would earn Rs 150 per day.
Both Ramcharan Munda and his wife are eligible pensioners under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) but have not received pensions since January 2019.
Dependent On Neighbours’ Mercy
In the absence of any income source and monetary flow in the household and lack of ration, the starvation situation within the four walls was worsening day by day. As mentioned by Chamri Devi, and corroborated by the relatives and the neighbours, the couple was surviving on a handful of rice twice a day collected from the neighbours, that too not on a regular basis and sometimes they had to go to sleep empty stomach. Chamri Devi said that she used to request the neighbours for some rice and they would sometimes show kindness and did as much as they could. She also shared that she only once borrowed from the local ration shop but was unable to payback so never went back to borrow again.
The family has got an LPG cylinder and a cook stove recently under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) but none knew how to use it. Moreover, they did not have much to cook on it and were using the earthen chulha for whatever meagre meal they were able to secure for themselves.
The younger daughter, Sunila, reiterated that she used to visit her parents more often and would buy them vegetables but never bought rice for them. The other people present corroborated that she did visit but not on a regular basis. Also, Chamri Devi shared that since they could not afford to buy vegetables, she would just depend on borrowed rice and sometimes would pick leafy greens from anybody’s farm or naturally produced on own. There was no mention of pulses in the conversation and it’s clear that they were deprived of it.
Sunila informed that she was the one to take her father to doctor approximately two weeks ago where the doctor said that everything is okay and instructed that Ramcharan Munda consume only “madh bhaat”(Watery boiled rice). He almost stopped eating anything from the last two weeks and had not eaten anything since last 2.5 days before he succumbed to death. Sunila said that she fed her father “madh bhaat” on the evening of June 5, 2019, and then he slept and passed away.
“Clear Case Of Starvation Death”
The above-mentioned facts found by the team were enough for them to conclude that the “family was living in abject poverty and starvation and this death is a clear case of starvation death”.
The team spoke to the Mukhiya of the village, Usha Xalxo, responsible for 11 villages falling under her Panchayat. She mentioned that she put in all her efforts in ensuring that the family gets ration – made aware the MO about the situation and requested him to allow distribution of ration as an emergency to the most vulnerable households, wrote to DC regarding the same, also told the dealer to give away the ration through the “apvaad (exception) register” but the dealer was hesitant to take things in her hands and wanted to do so by following proper protocols. The team asked her about the emergency fund that is allocated amounting to INR 10,000/- to the Mukhiya, to which she replied that the whole amount has exhausted as she had assisted those without ration cards.
The team talked to the neighbourhood and collected the following information about the particular household and the entire village per se:
- When still Ramcharan Munda was able to go out in search of work, he would sometimes work in other villagers’ farmland and would get food grain in return in kind and sometimes they would just borrow from the neighbourhood. The elderly couple has been living in starvation, suggested the neighbours.
- From the past many years, there has been no work done in the village under MGNREGA.
- The villagers, most of them, engage in brick kiln work in Mahuadand only. Ramcharan Munda to worked there for some time at the wage rate of INR 150/- per day.
- Some villagers sell “kendu leaves” to earn their livelihood.
- The water availability situation is not good in the village with just one well and one defunct hand pump.
- It’s been just a month since the village got the electricity connection.
The team conducted the anthropometry of 5 persons (4 children, 1 adult) and found that all of them have underweight BMI.
The team met the Block Division Officer (BDO), Priti Kisku, to understand the further course of action regarding the unfortunate event and got a very cold response in return, stating that there lies no power with block authority to be able to take any action in such cases.
The following are the facts in chronological order highlighting the government machinery’s callousness in timely addressing the issue of online/offline ration distribution through PDS for this particular village:
- April 24, 2019: The dealer wrote to District Supply Officer (DSO) regarding the conversion of online to an offline ration distribution system. This was forwarded to the DSO by the MO the same day with the following comments – “This particular village lacks internet connectivity. Therefore, it is requested to convert the ration distribution system from online to offline.”
- May 10, 2019: DC wrote to the Secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, Jharkhand regarding the same.
- May 25, 2019: Dealer again wrote to DSO as a reminder.
No actions taken, Ramcharan Munda died on June 5, 2019, exposing this sheer act of negligence by the system in place. The DSO visited the deceased’s home the next day and provided the family with 50kg ration (rice) and an amount of INR 2000/- for carrying out the last rites and rituals. That day the entire village households got their ration due from last 2 months. It’s a sad revelation that it cost one person’s life to ensure the system’s rapid action.
About the author: Piyalee Bose was the part of the Fact-finding team that went on the ground to know the reasons behind the death of 64-yr-old Ramchandra Munda. She works with Right to Food campaign.