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Murshidabad Starvation Deaths

Posted Online on Sunday 26, June 2005 13:45 IST

Report on Starvation Deaths in Murshidabad, West Bengal

By Yoginder Sikand

This 64-page report, compiled by Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of the Delhi-based newspaper The Milli Gazette, details the starvation deaths that have taken place in and around Jalangi in Murshidabad district in Werst Benegal in recent months, which have received but scant attention in the media. In the supposedly Marxist state of West Bengal, the report says, grinding poverty is widespread, particularly among the state's Muslims and Dalits, who account for more than half of West Bengal's population and who are the principal victims of the near famine conditions in the Jalangi area.

According to the report, near-starvation conditions in Jalangi have been caused by the changing course of the river Padma, which has destroyed farmlands, leading to numerous deaths and rendering hundreds of people to destitution, forcing them to beg or else to migrate outside the region in search of survival opportunities. Stark poverty has reduced many people to surviving on roots and leaves, leading to widespread disease and malnutrition. To make matters worse, apathetic local and state administrations are allowing food supplies to rot in godowns while a majority of the affected people are not even issued below-poverty-line ration cards. Poverty eradication programmes are not being properly implemented and people working under the Food For Work programme remain unpaid for long periods despite funds having been released to the local authorities. People complain that money is being deducted from the paltry wages that they are entitled to under the poverty eradication programmes in order to fund local CPI (M) party activities . It is also alleged that beneficiaries of these programmes are selected on the basis of party affiliation. Besides these programmes, the only alternative for many people in the area is casual work on private farms, for which they are often paid a measly Rs.20 for a day's work (and that in a state that has been ruled by an avowed Marxist government for decades now!). To protest against the apathy of the West Bengal government and to promote awareness about the issue, the compiler of this report, Dr. Khan, has filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court.

The report, priced at Rs. 50, may be procured from Dr. Khan, by writing to him on Proceeds from sale of the booklet will be donated to an NGO working among the starvation victims in Murshidabad.

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