So many rights – and none saved their lives

Five deaths in an Orissa family provide a case study of how welfare schemes achieve anything but

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | May 24, 2010


Villagers outside the dilapidated house of Jhintu Bariha in Chabripali village in Balangir. The incomplete brick structure seen in the photograph is that of an incomplete house being built by the panchayat long after Jhintu and four others of his family died of starvation.
Villagers outside the dilapidated house of Jhintu Bariha in Chabripali village in Balangir. The incomplete brick structure seen in the photograph is that of an incomplete house being built by the panchayat long after Jhintu and four others of his family died of starvation.

Three members of Jhintu Bariha’s family died one after the other between September 6 and 9, 2009 – his three-year-old son Sibaprasad, seven-month-old daughter Gundru and 35-year-old wife Bimla. They were ill and died without getting medical care as the nearest primary health centre is 23 km away from their village.

A few days later, on September 15, the local newspaper Dharitri broke the story of “three starvation deaths” in Chabripali hamlet of Khaprakhol block in Balangir district—B of the KBK, the starvation death-belt of Orissa. It created a minor ripple, not a sensation that brought the infamous KBK into the national consciousness in the mid-80s.

By that time, the district administration had reacted. Forty-two-year-old Jhintu Bariha and his seven-year-old son Ramprasad, both of whom were also ill at the time, were taken to the district hospital in Balangir, about 90 km from their home in Chabripali. Both were diagnosed as suffering from “clinical malaria”. Ramprasad was given a bottle of blood because he was anaemic. Both responded to the treatment and were sent back. A few days later Jhintu Bariha fell ill again and died. Official records say he died of tuberculosis. That was October 8.

Two months later, a team attached to the Supreme Court-appointed Commissioners on Right to Food, made its second visit to Chabripali to check on the family and found his mother, 70-year-old Minji Briha, lying on the mud floor of their little hut with high fever. Her 80-year-old husband Champe Bariha said she had been ill for a month. With the help of the district administration, the team moved her to a hospital. She was found to be anaemic and suffering from malaria. On the morning of December 17 she was found dead in the hospital.

Chief District Medical Officer Dr P C Sahu, who had attended to Minji Bariha, says the woman was found to be “under-nourished” and her anaemic condition was “profound”. “It was a case of chronic starvation,” he concludes. About Jhintu Bariha too, his verdict was “chronic starvation.” As for Jhintu Bariha’s two kids and wife who had died earlier, he said by the time the medical teams reached them it was too late. They were long dead. “What we learnt was that the kids (Sibaprasad and Gundru) were very thin.”

Dr Sahu points at the widespread poverty and poor medical facility in the district and explains the situation: “My view is that poverty leads to under-nourishment and then illness. If not treated in time, illness – anaemia, frequent bouts of fever, pneumonia, tuberculosis and also malaria – continues and leads to death.”

To buttress his point, Dr Sahu says the district hospital treated about 15,000-16,000 pregnant mothers (that is, 50 percent of all those who report at the hospital) for severe anaemic conditions every year – with haemoglobin counts between 6 to 8 gm per decilitre, as against 12 gm per decilitre for a healthy woman. And, about 1,400-1,500 malnourished children reported at health camps organised in the district every month. The condition would be worse in “cut off” areas, the areas with no links to the outside world.

But District Collector Shailendra Narayan Dey has a different take. He says: “They (Jhintu Bariha and members of his family) died of malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases. There was not a single case of starvation death.” A report stating this was sent to the state secretariat in Bhubaneswar and the matter was dismissed.

Come to think of it, the central government and the state government run a host of welfare schemes on which thousands of crore of rupees are spent every year and none saved Jhintu Bariha.

For one, under the targetted PDS, every BPL family in Orissa is entitled to 25 kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg, 2 kg of sugar at Rs 13.50 a kg and four litres of kerosene every month. Though Jhintu Bariha was landless, partially disabled and reduced to begging towards the end of his life, he was not covered under the scheme. Orissa has not updated its BPL list since 1997 in clear violation of the PDS Control Order 2001 which calls for annual revision.

His father Champe Bariha does have a BPL card and gets 25 kg of rice every month. A family of eight (Jhintu Bariha, his parents, younger brother, wife and three kids) survived on this.

Under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna, poorest of the poor are entitled to 25 kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg every month. Jhintu Bariha’s family was not covered under this scheme either.

Under the Annapurna Yojna, destitute family receives 10 kg of food grain free of cost. Again, the family wasn’t covered.
In addition to these central government schemes, the state government has two more food schemes. One is the Gratuitous Relief (GR) scheme under which the panchayat provides 12.5 kg of rice free to the family. The family got it after three members were dead.

The other one is a Distress Card which the panchayat issues to a family in distress and entails 25 kg of rice at Rs 2 a kg. One such card has been issued to Jhintu Bariah’s surviving younger brother Brushav. Though the entries in the card suggest 25 kg of rice were issued from September 2009, Brushav himself said he started availing the benefit from January 2010 – a month after five of the family had died of hunger.

There are more central government schemes. As per the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), every settlement should have an Anganwadi centre, especially in SC/ST dominated areas (Jhintu Bariha belonged to SC) to provide supplementary nutrition to children up to six years, pregnant women and malnourished children. An Anganwadi centre existed a kilometre away from Chapripali but the villagers did not get any benefit. Another centre was set up in Chabripali on September 15, a week after Jhintu Bariha’s wife and two kids were dead.

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme provides for cooked meal to every child going to the primary school run or assisted by the government. Chabripali has a primary school but Jhintu Bariha’s elder son Ramprasad was not a regular, either because of illness or because of migrating out with the family in search of work.

The National Maternity Benefit Scheme is meant to provide cash assistance of Rs 500 to expectant mothers. Jhintu Bariha’s wife Bimla never got it. Her last child Gundru was less than a year old when she died.

Then there is a National Family Benefit Scheme, which provides that a BPL family will get Rs 10,000 within four weeks of the breadwinner’s death. The BDO publicly announced to give this money after Jhintu Bariha’s wife died on September 9. But the money had not reached the family until late December because of “lack of funds”. By that time Jhuntu and his mother too had succumbed to starvation.

Jhintu Bariha’s parents were entitled for the National Old Age Pension Scheme too. His father, Champe Bariha, was getting Rs 200 a month under this scheme and this was the only other source of livelihood for the family, apart from the ration his BPL card brought.

His mother Minji did not get the pension. The administration sanctioned it in October, two months before she died and one month after three of the family had died. The state government has its own pension plan, named Madhubabu Pension Scheme. This was not given to the old couple.

There is an Indira Awas Yojana under which the poor are given loan to build a house that Jhintu Bariha’s family needed desperately. But the panchayat woke up in late February when a team of the state’s human rights commission was to visit Chabripali. A 2.5 ft brick structure stands near Jhintu Bariha’s hut at the moment, which the villagers said was built by the panchayat officials themselves and then abandoned.

Apart from the food, pension and housing schemes, the government also runs NREGS to provide work. The scheme was implemented in Balangir district since February 2006. But for next two years no work was taken up. Two months after Jhintu Bariha’s death, work started on a kuchcha road, which goes from nowhere to nowhere, near his hut and abandoned soon after because the wages were not paid for one-and-half months.

Had NREGS been a regular affair, Jhintu Bariha would probably have stayed back, instead of going to Andhra Pradesh every year to work at the brick kilns where he received that crippling electric shock in 2008 that left a part of his body paralysed and forced him to beg for food. Who knows, had he stayed the fate of his family would have probably been different.

[Post script: Jhintu Bariha’s father Champe Bariha has been put in an old-age home by the district administration. A voluntary organisation, Biswa Nidam, has adopted his son Ramprasad who now stays in an orphanage managed by it and studies in class I in Arabinda Integral School. His brother Brushav stays in Chabripali and survives by doing odd jobs.]

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