Yavatmal tribals starving for 4 months without supplies
DNA / Yogesh Pawar / Thursday, June 13, 2013
Figues that bite:
- Over 60% of India’s wheat and 27% of rice is pilfered before reaching ration card holders.
- SC guidelines need updating of BPL lists annually.
- Maharashtra still goes by the 2002 BPL survey figures
- Less than 25% of the total population in the state has a ration card.
Following the stalemate over the food security bill, at a time when the Centre is shouting from roof tops about its food security concerns for the poor, it has emerged that in theNaxal-affected tribal interiors of Zari tehsil in Yavatmal district, none of the villages have been getting any supplies at the PDS ration shops. This has led to widespread starvation and fears that this could lead to hunger deaths among the Kolam adivasis in a cruel repeat of 2002 when 42 tribals had died of starvation.
While Hivra, Katli, Borgaon, Botuni, Mahadpur, Bhimnaala villages have been forced to buy food from outside or go hungry for the past four months, the same problem afflicts Shiba,Rajani, Pardi, Rampur, Kundi, Ambezhari and Pachpor villages since the last two months. “We do not get any work till the last week of June when the rains begin here. Since I cannot afford the expensive foodgrain in the open market rates, I have been digging out wild tubers to feed my family,” said Janga Meshram, 39, a resident of Hivra village, one of the worst-hit told dna. Given that his father was among the 42 who died in 2002 he should know the fear of going hungry.
Activists working for food security in the region are baffled that this is being done by a government, which used targeted public distribution system for all poor, as a major plank in its 2009 campaign to come into power. Many like Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) point out, “The Yavatmal collectorate had assured the Nagpur bench of the Bombay HC in an affidavit that it would assume responsibility for food security of the Kolam tribals in 2002when the court had pulled it up following the starvation deaths. But clearly that assurance has remained only on paper.”
In fact in a violation of Supreme Court (SC 2001 order (in a PIL by People's Union for Civil Liberties) asking states to update BPL lists in keeping with local civic bodies’ lists, the government submitted an affidavit to the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court following 42 deaths among Kolam tribals in Yavatmal. On one hand the local collector told the court that the state strictly follows the SC 2001 order and updates BPL lists annually. On the other, he admitted that on the ground a 2002 BPL survey is considered for selecting families for food security under the PDS.
Tiwari wonders how the governments at the state and Centre can call themselves pro-poor. “First Maharashtra continues to use a 2002 list denying lakhs of below poverty line (BPL) people who barely earn enough for one meal a day access to food, despite the fact that local bodies have sent lists for 2012 to the state and now even those entitled under the older lists have been going without supplies for over four months.” He adds, “If this is the government’s approach in the heart of farmer suicide belt where starvation deaths have already occurred and Naxals already wield clout, one shudders to think of conditions elsewhere.”
Though several controllers in the PDS administration confirmed the magnitude of the problem to dna, Yavatmal collector Ashwin Mudgal sought to downplay the issue. “We had found siphoning off of foodgrains in the Paatan godown and sealed it. It cannot be more than 15 days. We have asked the people to pick up food grains from the neighbouring PDSshops which are open.”
This is little relief to the likes of Meshram for who the next PDS shop would mean a 20 km trudge.