Orissa govt denies reports of starvation deaths in Kashipur
BHUBANESWAR, Aug 30:
The Orissa government today reiterated that no starvation deaths had taken place in the Kashipur block of the tribal dominated Rayagara district. Reacting to media reports of alleged starvation deaths in Kashipur block, the Rayagara district Collector Bishnupada Sethi in a statement released here said though the backward block had reported 19 deaths so far since July this year, none of them was due to starvation.
"By no stretch of imagination can they be called starvation deaths", the Collector said. Explaining in detail, Mr Sethi said, 7 persons had died in Panasuguda village due to food poisoning. One Biswanath Majhi of the village had engaged a few labourers to work in his field and some of the labourers as well as Mahji's family members died after consuming food served by the latter. In Bilamala village four people died after consuming poisonous mushrooms "by mistake". Mushrooms were used in a curry and not as the main item of food, the Collector maintained.
Similarly, the Collector claimed, there had been four deaths in village Badamaribhatta and Tikri-Jhadia Sahi due to diseases. "This is also being branded as starvation deaths", he observed adding that four more people had also succumbed to food poisoning in Pitajodi village as per the medical report. Mr Sethi strongly denied that he had ever stated before any journalist that starvation deaths were round the corner in Kashipur. Maintaining that the local administration in Rayagara district is quite responsive to the situation, the Collector said several steps had already been initiated for the development of the area and to address the problems of the local people.
The Public Distribution System (PDS) is working perfectly in all the 17 Gram Panchayats in the Kashipur block. Food for work programmes have been launched in the entire block. Five mobile health units have already been despatched to the backward block. As the tribals of Kashipur lack a proper awareness of hygiene and personal care, the Rayagara district administration and the UNICEF are to jointly launch a programme in the backward block to teach the tribals the basics of hygiene and personal care to prevent deaths due to diseases and poisonous food, the Collector said. However, the Collector's explanation has not been able to satisfy the Opposition in the state who insist that the deaths in Kashipur block were due to starvation. Addressing a press conference here today, the state committee of the CPM alleged that the BJD-BJP government's claim on the issue was misleading."The food for work programme is yet to be launched in Kashipur block", former MP and member of the CPM state secretariate, Shivaji Patnaik said adding that the people in the area have been forced to eat mango kernels and wild roots as proper food was not made available to them.
Mr Patnaik who visited the area recently said it would be difficult for the state government to tolerate the wrath of the people if steps were not initiated immediately to address their problems. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has already sought a report from the Orissa government on the alleged starvation deaths in Kashipur block. The state unit of the Congress, the principal Opposition party in Orissa had appealed to the NHRC to initiate an inquiry into the alleged starvation deaths.