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India’s people are starving, even as their economy swells

TIM GRAHAM / Robert Harding Heritage / robertharding

Reports say India's people are starving while grain is rotting in poor storage facilities.

Reports of starvation deaths are on the rise in India, leading many church leaders and activists to criticize the government’s failure to implement welfare measures and enforce a law that ensures the right to food. The nation’s hunger plight was emphasized after reports of the deaths of 3 young children in New Delhi, who succumbed to starvation.

UCA News reports that Bishop Paul Alois Lakra of Gumla in Jharkhand state spoke out about 12 cases of starvation deaths in his eastern state. One man, 40-year-old Rajendra Birhor, was survived by his wife, Shanti, who reported her husband suffered from jaundice, but they could not afford medicine. They could not receive government subsidized grain because they did not have proper documents.

Bishop Lakra said, “It shows a system failure. We have a unique act which guarantees the right to food for all, and yet sadly governments fail in ensuring basic food for people.”

The government has yet to determine an official figure of starvation deaths. Bishop Lakra explained it is difficult to determine starvation as the cause of death without an autopsy, since starving people often contract one of many diseases while so malnourished.

Critics are questioning how the hunger problem could have gotten so bad in India, a nation which just last year rose to 6th place in the list of the worlds largest economies. In a 2017 report, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation estimated that 190.7 million Indian citizens were undernourished. That’s 14.5 percent of their 1.2 billion population.

As far as food security goes, India is ranked 74th out of 113 countries and it is estimated that 43 percent of Indian children are chronically undernourished.

This is not a new problem for India. In 2013, the Indian parlament enacted the National Food Security Act, with the goal of providing subsidized food grains to about two-thirds of the country’s population.

UCA News says a Jesuit, Father Irudaya Jyothi, is leading a movement to ensure enforcement of the food security law. Father Jyothi believes the continuing starvation deaths show a distinct failure of the government in their efforts to feed the needy.

People are dying of hunger even though tonnes of grains go rotten because of poor storage facilities, sloppy distribution and a lack of effective systems to identify the needy, media reports show.

Father Jyothi said it was “inhuman” to make food security conditional on people’s ability to produce documents proving their identity or residence. It also violates the right to life guaranteed by the constitution, he said.

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