The Right to Food Campaign (RFT), Jharkhand, prepared detailed reports on the starvation death of two more persons in the state, Motka Manjhi and Ramachandra Munda. Text of the reports:
On 3rd June 2019 a fact-finding team consisting of Mr. Ashrfi Nand Prasad, Mr Prathyush S, both from Right to Food Campaign (RTF), Mr. Sushanto Soren (Lokmanch Dumka), Adv. Samyul Soren and Mr. Kaushal Kumar from People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) visited Gram Oopar Rangini, Panchayat Asanjhor, post Asanjhor, Jama Dumka of Late Motka Manjhi, who died on 22nd May 2019. During the visit the team met the widow and two sons of the diseased. The team also met the close relatives, friends and neighbours of late Motka Manjhi.
From the visit we understood that Motka Manjhi was a Malpaharia tribe (one of the PVTGs) and died on 22nd May 2019. According to his wife and relatives, Motka had never complained about any illness or ailments and was not under any treatment. His death was of sudden. According to his wife Motka was worried about his poverty and acute starvation. Though he ate in the morning, he felt very weak, and while chopping firewood he collapsed and lost consciousness. The family members took him to the nearby hospital where the doctor declare him dead. The hospital authorities suggested to take him back and hence the family members booked an auto rickshaw and brought back his lifeless body.
Motka along with his wife and younger son lived in a very small single-room hut made of bamboo and palm leaves. The hut was occupied by three members and consists of cooking space and living space within a small area. The kuccha house has no electricity and no toilet. His two elder sons are married and live with their own family near Motka’s hut. Motka worked as a daily labourer in the brick kiln, but was unable to get work for the whole year. He was paid a wage of Rs 150 per day at the brick kiln and used to seek agricultural and other daily-wage labour in and around the village. His wife remembers that Motka found work for only 45-50 days in the last 6 months.
The family owns a small piece of land where they used to cultivate paddy once a year. The rice from the cultivation was not at all sufficient as it was consumed by the whole family (including the family of two elder sons). It could only meet the requirements for 2 months during the months of October and November. The family members, relatives and neighbour claimed unemployment is a big issue and most of the villagers especially the male members visit the Dumka market for wage labour. For this they have to travel 20 kilometers from their village. Many of the youths used to go to other cities in search of employment. The villagers claimed that MNREGA works were not available for the past 5 years.
The family did not even have a MGNREGA job card till 1st June 2019. But 10 days after Motka’s death, the Panchayat sewak Mr. Arun Yadav brought them job cards on 1st June 2019. Three job cards were issued, in the names of Alavati Devi (job card no 11004001010212), Sunil Manjhi (Job card no 11004001010213) and Anil Manjhi (11004001010214)
As Motka belongs to PVTG, he was entitled to an AAY card with a monthly quota of 35 KG of rice. However, he was issued with PH card (card no 202004758196) and no other family members were included in the card. As his thumb impression is not being read by the e-PoS machine, the ration dealer (“Swayam sahayata samooh ghoribad, pooshabiyar, Jama”) denied him his PDS entitlements. Also the other challenge was the ration shop is situated 6 kilometre away from his house.
Hence the family members were forced to sold their domestic fowls (hen and rooster) and goats to purchase food grains from the market at a high price. Sometimes they also borrowed food grains and other goods from friends, neighbours and relatives which they had to return. They were able to consume food twice a day only. The family was unable to consume any pulses for more than one year. Their diet consists of nothing more than rice, potatoes and green leafy vegetables. They usually collect the green leafy vegetables from the fields only.
Alavati Devi is entitled to a social security pension (PVTG pension) of Rs 600 month. Her bank transaction details show that she received pension until January 2019 only. Alavati remembers that to perform the funeral rites, she approached the Allahabad bank, Lakshmipur branch, Dumka with the passbook and the official informed her that her account is not credited with the pension amount since February 2019.
After his death the Block Development Officer offered 10 KG of rice and Rs 5000 as immediate relief. The Mukhiya of Asanjor Panchayat also provided 15 Kg of rice. Similarly, the Mukhiya of Mehro panchayat provided 25 kg of rice. The BDO promised that the department will process for providing compensation of Rs 20000 against the sudden death of the head of the family. The mukhiya and the panchayat secretary offered to arrange for a Birsa Awas (though no household get any Birsa Awas in the village).
During the visit, the team also measured the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the family members, relatives and neighbours of Motka Manjhi. 43 members were measured with the BMI of which 19 of them were children under 15 and the result were adults. The result shows that 9 children were under the body mass of 13.5 and are severely underweight. Whereas 2 adults are having the body mass below 16 are severely underweight. These severely underweight cases need immediate intervention like treatment through MTCs or NRCs. Three more adults with BMI below 18 also need similar interventions. During the visit the team also found that there were very less people in the village who are above the age of 50-55 years.
The next day, i.e. on 4th June 2019, the team visited the Anganwadi centre of Oopar Rangini, Asanjhor , but was fount closed. The villagers near by the Anganwadi centre informed that the centre will remain on summer holiday till 10th June 2019. To understand the matter in detail, the team also visited the house of Ananta Devi, The Anganwadi worker, but the family members conveyed that she had went to Jama for her personal work.
On June 8, 2019, a team from 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 sub division 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 following facts were collected by conducting the verbal autopsy as per the Hunger Define Protocol: Victim’s name and age: Lt. Ramcharan Munda; 64 years’ old; family details: Wife’s name and age – Chamri Devi; two daughters – elder daughter’s name: Subha Devi; younger daughter’s name: Sunila Devi. The elder daughter is married and lives in Mahuadand. The younger daughter is living with her partner in Dumri. 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.
Ramcharan Munda lived with his wife in their two-room mud hut. They have applied for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and the name is showing online.
There are two toilets constructed, under the Swachh Bharat Mission – Grameen, in the immediate vicinity of the hut belonging to their relatives but the family doesn’t own one.
Ramcharan Munda never got any work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme whereas the job card has been made back in 2006 (MGNREGA Job Card No.: JH06/00445). The situation is uniform throughout the village.
Both Ramcharan Munda and his wife are eligible pensioners under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) but have not received pensions since January 2019.
The family has PH ration card (No.: 202004690268) under the Public Distribution System (PDS) but has not been getting ration since April 2019.
De facto details:
In the entire village, ration wasn’t distributed from last two months, third month being June 2019. The reason being the allocation of 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 3 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 she made efforts on her part to go through the system to get the conversion done from online to offline system, but the higher authorities did not take any further steps to address the issue.
Since ration was not being distributed from the past 2 months, this particular family suffered 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. Ramcharan Munda never got any work under the NREGA scheme whereas the job card has been made back in 2006. 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.
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 of labour-based wage earning.
To add on to the agony, both Ramcharan Munda and his wife being pensioners, have not received pensions since January 2019.
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 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 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 buying vegetables, she would just depend borrowed rice and sometimes would pick leafy greens from anybody’s farm or naturally produced. 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” from that day onwards. He almost stopped eating anything from 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” in the evening of June 5, 2019, and then he slept and passed away.
The above mentioned facts clearly backs up the statement that the “family was living in abject poverty and starvation and this death is a clear case of starvation death”.
The team talked to the Mukhia 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, also told the dealer to give away the ration through the “apvaad register” and she would manage but the dealer was hesitant to take things in her hands and wanted to do so by following proper protocols.
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’ farm land and would get food grain in return in kind and sometimes they would just borrow from neighbourhood. The elderly couple has been living in starvation, suggested the neighbours.
- From 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 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 DSO regarding the conversion of online to 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). 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 system’s rapid action.