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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Apex Court refers Murshidabad PIL to WB Rights Commission, issue raised in Parliament

The Milli Gazette Online

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on 10 May referred a PIL petition on Murshidabad hunger and starvation deaths to the West Bengal State Human Rights Commission. 

A bench comprising Justice Ruma Pal and Justice SH Kapadia directed the registrar of the Supreme Court to send a copy of the writ petition to the said state commission. The apex court further advised the petitioner that state-level efforts should be exhausted before coming back to the apex court for remedial measures.

The petition was filed by Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of the Delhi-based newspaper, The Milli Gazette, who has himself visited the affected area and is organising relief of urgent nature in the affected area where thousands of villagers are battling with starvation conditions having lost their agricultural lands due to erosion of large tracts of land by River Padma. 

Starvation deaths have been continuously reported from the area, especially in the Bengali press as well as by human rights organisations. An estimated 25,000 persons from over a dozen villages are victims of land erosion. Their homes and agricultural lands have disappeared due to the river changing course and now they have moved to lands on the western banks of the river. 

Various reports and field visits have confirmed that the state authorities continue to ignore this unfolding tragedy and have allowed the situation to reach a point where people have been dying due to hunger and multiple ailments arising out of starvation conditions. 

Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha member Abu Asim Azmi (Samajwadi Party) raised this issue on 10 May in Parliament, saying that the government is collecting huge funds for tsunami victims while doing nothing when it comes to victims of places like Murshidabad.

"Today our country talks about sending a mission to the moon and we claim that we are self-sufficient in food but it is so sad that from time to time we hear about starvation deaths of adivasis and suicides by farmers," he said, adding that the latest tragedy is unfolding in West Bengal's Murshidabad district where in and around Jalangi area victims, uprooted and devastated due to land erosion by River Padma, have moved to government and private lands where they live under constant threat of eviction. They have no homes of their own and no agricultural lands to support them. Out of about 25,000 such uprooted people around 5000 are in such a bad condition that they are dying due to starvation, Abu Asim said. He cited reports in Bengali newspapers like Anand Bazar Patrika and The Statesman as well as The Milli Gazette which have time and again reported starvation deaths in the area but the state government has shown no interest in arresting the unfolding tragedy. 

Citing the booklet "Murshidabad Starvation Deaths" published by the Milli Gazette, Abu Asim asked the central government to take the tragedy seriously and send a fact-finding team to the area. Abu Asim demanded the central government to take urgent steps to issue below poverty line ration cards to the victims, offer land to the victims in lieu of the lands they have lost, offer ex-gratia compensation to all families who have lost any member due to starvation and to urgently start work to fortify the Padma river bank in order to arrest land erosion in the area. With the exception of the CPIM, no party opposed these demands. 

According to a report, the National Commission of Minorities has also discussed the Murshidabad starvation deaths.

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