One more starvation death alleged in Odisha
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One more starvation death alleged in Odisha

 

Bhubaneswar |

Last updated July 25, 2019 11:27:05 AM +0530

  Starvation Death, Fact Finding, Odisha, Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan
A fact finding team entrusted to inquire into the case of death of a locomotive disabled child in Nuapada district has declared the case as a case of starvation death caused by administrative callousness towards children vulnerable to hunger, and partly because of weakening of social bonding in the villages of Odisha.
 

At the time when the government has floated number of schemes to ensure food security and social safety to all, the news of a suspected case of starvation death of a disabled child in Nuapada district shocked the campaigners and activists of ‘Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan’.

According to the news reports, Goutam Behera, 17, a locomotor disable child died on 8th of July 2019 allegedly of starvation without any food for five days till his death. (The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines children as all human beings below the age of 18.) Goutam was living with her sister Debanti, 22, in Sargimunda village of Karlakot Panchayat under Boden block of Nuapada district.

Fact finding team:

In view of this, Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan decided for fact-finding of the case through a three-member team comprising Sameet Panda, a campaigner involved with Odisha Khadya Adhikar Abhiyan, Basudev Mahapatra, former editor-in-chief of Naxatra News who is now working as an independent journalist and writes on environment and developmental issues based in rural India for several online publications and magazines, and Ajit Panda, a Khariar (Nuapada) based journalist and development analyst who has tracked the case of the deceased since last eight months.

The primary aim of the fact-finding was to check the veracity of the news, and to ascertain how and why such a death could happen when the government has floated many schemes to ensure food security and social safety of the poor people of Odisha.

To perform its duty, the team visited Sargimunda village, under Boden block of Nuapada district, on 13th of July 2019 and submitted its report with following observations and recommendations. The team met Goutam’s surviving sister Debanti, who because of some dermatological issues is also unable to do any hard work and suffers from physical disability. The team also discussed with neighbours, other villagers, and a few civil society members on the particular case.

Observations and recommendations made by the team:

- After inquiry during the field visit, the team is unanimously convinced that death of Goutam Behera, a disabled child, of Sargimunda village in Boden block of Nuapada district is a case of starvation death as the deceased and his surviving sister didn’t take any food for five days till the unfortunate incident occurred.

- The team observed that despite several schemes run by the government for social safety and food security to poor and underprivileged people of the state the benefits still remain inaccessible to many sometimes because of insensibility at local level administration and sometimes due to indifference of officials towards the issues in specific cases like the one we have taken up here. Specifically, the team noted in its report that the ailing siblings were categorically denied for an AAY card even after repeated requests by the siblings, villagers, social workers and a few media persons.

- In the post death scenario, the administration flung into action and Debanti was issued with an AAY card hurriedly on 9th of July along with 70 kg of rice by the Block level authorities. Reminding that the same was denied multiple times by the administration when Goutam was alive, the report quotes Debanti who said, “Had it done earlier by the block or district administration, the death of Goutam could have been prevented.”

- The team also finds violation of norms specified in Odisha Relief Code with regard to the official designated for investigating the case and persuading to cremate the dead body without post-mortem. This could be an attempt to suppress the reality that the case was a case of starvation death.

- Among many recommendations made by the team (as mentioned in the complete report), one is that the State Government should come out with immediate order (joint order by Department of W&CD and Mission Shakti, and Department of Panchayati Raj and Drinking Water) to provide with dignity one meal per day from nearby AWC or School to person or families living with hunger. This is important post Emergency Feeding Programme. The concerned Sarpanch should not only communicate this to the local AWC/ School but also should keep track of and report about the health and wellbeing of the vulnerable.

- The team also recommended for efforts by the government to form collectives of caring citizens including elderly, youth, SHG members and other concerned individuals at the societal level. These concerned citizens must be sensitized on the plights of elderly, disabled and other people in need of care, empathy and support and/ or vulnerable to hunger. These collectives can act as an important actor in building a social safety net.  They can also take proactive steps so that no one suffers from chronic hunger and starvation.

Appeal:

There is no doubt that the case of death of disabled child Goutam Behera is a clear case of starvation death. So we appeal the government to accept this and act responsibly and promptly to avoid repetition of such a case in future. The government needs to trace and eliminate the gaps in policy implementation mechanism to ensure that benefits of each and every policy and scheme reach the target.

See/ download the complete report

Declaration: The date of death is changed to 8th of July 2019 after verification. We regret passing wrong information to our readers, which, we believe, was non-compliance to principles of truthfulness and fairness in case of the earlier report that mentioned a different date as the date of death.

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