CPI(ML) Team Visits Kashipur to Probe Starvation Deaths

An 8-member CPI(ML) team consisting of Comrades Rajaram Singh, Co-Convenor of All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Khitish Biswal, State CPI(ML) Secretary, State Committee members Dandapani Mohanty, Bidyadhar Patro and Tirupati Gomango and Rayagada District Committee members P Prasad and V Bharati visited Pitajodi, Panasaguda, Badamaribhatta, Kuchipodar and Kashipur, where starvation deaths in July-August have rocked the conscience of the country.

In Kashipur block, there are 17 gram panchayats covering 70 villages with a total population of 1,01,451. Dalits (20,280) and tribals (60,402) together make over 80% of the population. Arable land in the block amounts to 37,124 hectare and on 3/4 of this land paddy is grown as the main crop. Nearly total population depends on agriculture and only 15% of them are literate.

The phenomenon of starvation deaths first surfaced in 1987. Fifty persons died that year. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi consequently visited the area and introduced a developmental package called Orissa Tribal Development Project (OTDP), under which International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) allocated Rs. 60 crores to develop this area. A govt. inqiry has been set up to probe into irregularities in the project, but most of the money was cornered by middlemen, contractors and polticians. Consequently, the number of families below poverty line (BPL) has increased from 15662 in 1992 to 24,482 in 1997, while the government admitted that 8,000 more BPL cards could not be provided. Roads, culverts and bridges were built on paper; no scheme was taken up for developing irrigational facilities, although the area has a number of perennial sources of water. The land in the plains is occupied totally by upper caste businessmen and sahukars.

Local people here depend on agriculture for their livelihood. But they get only 5 months’ employment round the year. They get no work from July to October due to rains. So they store mango kernel, tamarind seeds, and if possible some amount of ragi or other varieties of coarse food, which they consueme during this period. This situation is prevailing not only in Kashipur but in entire Southwestern Orissa.

The team found that more than 20 persons had died by the end of August but neither the chief minister nor the Prime Minister had reached the area till then. More strangely, not even collector has visited the area and there was no BDO in Kashipur block for the last 5 months.

However, from Prime Minister Vajpayee to Food and Civil Supplies Minister Shanta Kumar, and from Navin Patnaik to the district collector Sethi, everybody without exception harped the same story that these were not starvation deaths. They term these deaths as death due to chronic malnutrition, or death due to food poisoning. Shanta Kumar says that Antyodaya scheme is being implemented in Orissa and ‘poorest of the poor’ are getting rice at Rs. 3 per kg and wheat at Rs. 2 per kg. So how can people die of hunger?

People in a number of villages of Kashipur block testified that the supply of PDS rice was quite irregular and it was very costly. Actually the BPL prices had been doubled in 2000 budget, but the purchasing power of peasants in this reason did not increase. And there lies the reason behind this pressure on supply. Due to this States have lifted only 55% of their BPL quota. On the other hand, contractors too avoid rainy season for construction jobs so no government project is taken up by them in rainy season in the rural areas. Then doctors are not available readily -- sometimes you have to walk 15 km to reach a dispensary. When people in order to satiate hunger consume mango kernel of wild mushroom and contract diarrhoea, all they can get is ORS. There is no question of arranging for saline transfusion.

The team visited entire area and formulated a joint charter of demands and submitted it to Rayagada district collector. These demands include (i) resettlement of land and restoration of land illegally transferred from adivasis and dalits to upper caste persons. Land rights should also be given to peasants practicing jhum cultivation. (ii) A project for construction of irrigation facilities be initiated immediately. (iii) At least one doctor should be appointed to every three panchayats, (iv) Rs. 1 lakh compensation to the family of person dying out of hunger, (v) Implementation of food for work programme, (vi) immediate action against those who illegally spinned money from IFAD schemes, (vii) a long-term agro-based, labour-intensive project should be established here which can provide jobs to the people, and (vii) The administration should make sure that all the poor people get BPL cards.


Ultimately, when Navin Patnaik visited Kashipur, he was offered by the adivasis the same mango kernel gruel, which he obviously refused to eat. Adivasis poured kernel powder over his car and held his caravan for hours. Ultimately he was rescued by additional forces reaching there. Secondly, in the month of September, at least 10 more persons died due to hunger during the first fortnight in similar circumstances, giving a lie to the government propaganda that nobody had died of starvation. Protest programmes were staged even before the Assembly.