Yet another starvation death in Jharkhand due to lack of Aadhaar card: HRLN, civil society groups conduct probe

On July 24, a starving 39-year-old man in Jharkhand breathed his last after months of suffering. He and his family, who belonged to a ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’ (PVTG), were too poor to afford rations, too underfed to work, and seemingly, too insignificant to matter to the local authorities who incorrectly excluded them from the Public Distribution System of rations for want of Aadhaar cards. The Human Rights Law Network, which was part of a team that investigated the circumstances behind his death, condemns the repetitive failure of the Jharkhand government in ensuring the basic right to life of its citizens. On paper, Rajendra Birhor’s family was entitled to the free doorstep delivery of 35 kg of food grains per month. In reality, however, their block officials’ insistence on Aadhaar cards for PDS -- and their apparent ignorance of Supreme Court directions on the matter -- consigned Birhor to a slow, painful death. This is the 13th such death in Jharkhand in just nine months. Members of HRLN, National Alliance of People's Movements, and the Right to Food Campaign conducted the fact-finding on July 26, two days after his death. The team’s report stated that the last time the family had been a beneficiary of any government aid was seven years ago, in 2011 (under NREGA). “Birhor had stopped working about a year ago due to extreme weakness and his wife managed to find work for only two or three days a week,” it said. “Due to the sharp fall in the family’s income over the past year, the husband, wife and their six children routinely ate less food than their body needed.” As news of the death spread, state authorities were quick to shrug off responsibility. The Block Development Officer even went on record to say that “Birhor (had) died of jaundice and alcoholism, not hunger”. This is despite the fact that the same block had just last month witnessed a very similar starvation death – again, a case of non-implementation of the PDS. Yet again, this death drags into national attention the state’s apathy towards its citizens. As always, in response, the state’s food and civil supplies minister has sought a report from the district administration. And while we are not sure how many such deaths it will take to truly wake up the Jharkhand government to the abysmal state of its public welfare schemes, we vow to keep up the legal fight on every level possible to seek justice for the victims of flawed governance. HRLN will continue to battle for the complete implementation, both in letter and spirit, of the Right to Food Act across the country.