âThe reason was that there were local undercurrents in the village. The PDS dealer and one of his relatives were having a bad relationship, so the lady (relative) spread the news that it was a starvation death.
âMalnourishment is endemic in the state. A malnourished body becomes susceptible to various ailments. What happened was unfortunate and the state government is sensitive to the issue. In the case of the rickshaw-pullerâs death in Dhanbad, there were four working persons in his family. It is a purely urban area. The family hadnât even applied for a ration card. However, all deaths are unfortunate. What happened is reprehensible. Starvation deaths shouldnât happen in a modern society.â
â Sanjay Kumar, Principal Secretary to Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das, told Tehelka
In fact, it is true that the device helps record all Fair Price Shops (FPS) transactions electronically andÂ enables real-time accounts of opening stock, daily sales and closing stock. In turn, apart from helping the government make monthly allotment of stocks to the FPS based on the stock position, it Â seems to have facilitated monitoring and detection of fraudulent transactions. Its positive effect was visible in Jharkhand as well. In the past the subsidised food grains supplied by Food Corporation of India (FCI) reached the PDS shops via the state Food Departmentâs stores. This delayed its distribution among beneficiaries and food grains worth crores of rupees were pilfered by many associated with the administration as well as the distribution system. Now the PDS shop dealers acquire the food grains straight from the FCI godowns.
However, the negative effect is that the beneficiaries of subsidised food grains, most of whom cannot afford to buy grains for daily consumption from the market, are not able to access their rightful food grain due to the infrastructure-related discrepancies in the system â lack of ration cards, lack of linking of Aadhaar cards with ration cards, and lack of access to uninterrupted internet and electricity in areas where the system has been completely digitised. So unless these loopholes are plugged, alternative and non-computerised methods for ensuring ration disbursement must be allowed.
Apparently in a face saving exercise, the Food and Civil Supply Minister, who has been actively trying to implement the NFSA, has initiated two main initiatives this week. The first is to keep at least 10 quintals of food grains in reserve for the poorest of the poor at the village panchayat and block levels. Second, he has sought registration of complaints filed by ration card holders. âWe are trying to streamline the system. Everything will become alright soon,â said Additional Chief Secretary Amit Khare.
Incidentally, none of the Ministerâs initiatives have brought about any visible change at the PDS shop level where the software of Aadhaar linked ePOS equipments continued to deny food grains to non-Aadhaar card holders.
Not satisfied with the state governmentâs response to the starvation deaths, economist and leader of the Right to Food campaign Jean Dreze, who has worked on the ground in the state, said that improper implementation of NFSA and complex Aadhaar based biometric system have deprived many poor families of food grains and caused the starvation deaths.
âTo avoid further tragedies, the government must go beyond empty promises and ensure implementation of plans such as switching the biometric system to offline mode for the time being till Aadhaar seeding was complete,â he told media persons.
Reacting to these measures announced by the Minister, some residents of Karimati village said that they will not let Santoshiâs death go in vain. âShe died because her parents were not rich enough to buy food from the market. We will fight back,â said a man belonging to the backward Ghasi tribe, requesting anonymity. Angry at the ministerâs late actions, another villager, a relative of Santoshi, uttered Hindi poet Kabir Dasâs well-known verse: âAb Pachtaye Howt Kya, Jab Chiriya Chug Gai Khetâ (The efforts are too little, too late).