INDIA: Government fails to prevent or acknowledge starvation deaths

[RE: AHRC-HAC-101-2011: India: Government’s failure to ensure food and health security led to death of widow]

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information regarding the Puri administration’s visit to children who lost their parents due to hunger and sickness in late September and early November respectively. Mr. Babaji Sethi, the children’s father, died of starvation and energy deficiency while struggling with hard labor, and their mother died of cancer while facing hunger without proper medical treatment after Mr. Babaji’s death (for details please see AHRC-HAC-010-2011). The district administration visited the family after receiving the AHRC’s appeal letter dated October 26, 2011 and replied to the letter on November 22, 2011. While the administration was keen to refer to a written statement made by late Mr. Babaji’s brother stating the children were given 30 kilograms of rice and 2,000 rupees for emergency relief after their parents’ death, it did not investigate why two poor Adivasis (indigenous people) died of insufficient nutrition and medical treatment.


The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is informed that the Puri district administration visited the children who lost their parents and provided them with 30 kilograms of rice and 2,000 rupees (USD 38) for emergency relief. The letter by the Additional District Magistrate says, “I conclude that Mrs. Sanjukta Sethi died on 05/11/2011 due to CANCER after prolonged treatment.”

According to this short letter, the administration neither pays attention to the root causes of two persons’ deaths, nor examines the non-implementation of available government schemes to ensure their right to life and freedom from hunger. Rather, the administration attempts to escape its duty and responsibility to those confronting hunger by emphasizing that one of the deceased died of cancer. The letter is available here.

Meanwhile, the administration got a letter from the deceased’s elder brother, which is allegedly prepared by the administration officer. This letter says:

“We Mr. Purnachandra Sethi son of Mr. Rath Sethi (village: Bagalai, Post- Saarada, Police Station: Konarka, District: Puri, State:Odisha), in presence of the Additional Collector write that my brother late Mr. Babaji Sethi was a leprosy patient and died on 27th September 2011 and his wife late Mrs. Sanjukta Sethi died of cancer on 5th November 2011. His family has been continuously getting 35 kg of Rice with an Antodaya card. They have four minor children and all stay with me. I am currently taking care of all children. We also got additional 30 kilograms of rice from the Block development Officer through Local Sarpanch (village head) and along with it we have received 2,000 rupees as emergency financial assistance from government.”

The elder brother testified that this letter was prepared by an administration officer and he would not be able to take responsibility for the children as he was also extremely poor and has his own children to look after. He clarified that the deceased Mr. Babaji was a leprosy patient earlier, but was completely cured and his death was not attributed to leprosy.

The administration’s letter reflects its limited understanding of its duty as only to clarify the direct reason of death, without examining the social and economic circumstances that should ensure the right to food and freedom from hunger in accordance with its mandate as envisaged in the Constitution and the Supreme Court Orders. The administration further believes that its duty can be fulfilled by providing 30 kilograms of rice and 2,000 rupees to the children, while imposing an additional burden upon the deceased’s brother, who is equally poor and also facing a lack of food and resources.

The AHRC suggested in its previous hunger alert case that the administration should check the implementation of all available welfare schemes and further strengthen mechanisms to prevent future starvation deaths. It is obvious that the administration’s failure to implement the schemes in time were the cause of the deceased persons’ lack of food and healthcare, leading to their deaths. The administration should thus prove that the deceased unfortunately died even after they enjoyed all the available mechanisms to be free from hunger and death.


Please join us in expressing your concern at the negligence of the administration to prevent the starvation deaths of one tribal family in Odisha. Please note that the administration denies that the family has been facing hunger and is deprived of access to public resources for food and health care, which is the key mandate of the administration in accordance with laws and policies.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food calling for its intervention.



To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear ___________,

INDIA: Call for acknowledgement of starvation deaths and punishment of responsible officials

Names of the affected
1. Mr. Babaji Seth, died of hunger and energy deficiency
2. Ms. Sanjukta Sethi, 40-years-old, died of cancer and hunger
3. Kabu Sethi, 17-years-old, eldest son of late Ms. Sanjukta, currently working in Tamil Nadu after Sanjukta died
4. Dipuna Sethi, 14-years-old, son of Ms. Sanjukta, in class 6
5. Laxmi Sethi, 12-years-old, daughter of Ms. Sanjukta, in class 5
6. Saraswati Sethi, 8-years-old, daughter of Ms. Sanjukta, in class 3, suffering signs of leprosy
Place of incident: Bogalai village, Banakhandi Gram Panchayat, Gop Block of Puri district, Orissa 
Date of incident: early November

I am writing to express outrage that the Puri administration merely provided 30 kilograms of rice and 2,000 rupees for the children whose parents faced hunger, illness and energy deficiency at the time of their deaths. I have learned that in its letter responding to the case, the administration emphasizes that the children's mother died of cancer, without examining its own failure in implementing the available government schemes aimed at preventing starvation deaths and malnutrition.

The administration’s response in dealing with this poor tribal family leads me to conclude that it is apathetic in fighting hunger and malnutrition, which is apparently a major concern of the Government of India, who is attempting to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The complete negligence of administration officials however, as in this case, is the primary reason for India failing to do so.

In the case of Mr. Babaji and his wife Sanjukta who died in two months, despite earlier complaints to the administration, no action was taken to help the family. Babaji died of hard labor and energy deficiency caused by hunger while taking care of his sick wife and children, to which the administration never responded. Even after Sanjukta died, the administration visited the children only after another complaint was sent to them, and provided 30 kilograms of rice and 2000 rupees for emergency purposes.

I am aware that the Union government as well as the state governments set up administrative and legal mechanisms to ensure freedom from hunger and to prevent death caused by starvation and malnutrition. This case proves that poor tribals do not enjoy these mechanisms, with the administration even denying that they suffer from hunger.

Rice distribution by the Public Food Distribution Scheme is not the only policy to ensure food security of the poor in India. It is just one government subsidy to provide staple food items such as rice or wheat at a cheaper price for the poor in India. To realize the right to food for all, especially the poor, the government built up policies at various levels, including public health, nutrition for the child under age of five and women, different pension schemes for vulnerable groups like widow, elderly etc., and employment schemes. Thus when poor families like Babaji's face hunger and a lack of resources, the administration is supposed to provide all in time, to protect them from hunger or malnutrition and other associated sicknesses. Unfortunately, none of these policies reached Babaji's family but for 30 kilograms of rice a month.

Yet, the administration still insisted that the family, the deceased in particular, did not suffer from lack of food and hunger when Babaji was dying of hunger and energy deficiency, and when Sanjukta was dying of cancer and lack of food. While the administration kept their eyes away from the family, Babaji and his eldest son were the ones who struggled to get food for the family.

A series of hunger cases reported by the AHRC, media and civil society highly concerned about the poor families dying of hunger in Odisha indicate clearly that the district administration as well as the state government continuously denies that the poor die of hunger due to non-implementation of relevant laws and policies. As seen in this case, the administration did not even look into its duty to prevent starvation deaths and ensure freedom from hunger. The letter from the administration merely says that “I conclude that Mrs. Sanjukta Sethi died on 05/11/2011 due to CANCER after prolonged treatment.”

In addition, I am also aware that the administration wrote a letter on behalf of the deceased’s brother, saying that he would look after the two children, even though he is also extremely poor and has his own children to look after. This is a poor attempt at imposing its own duty upon someone else.

I firmly believe the administration should not escape its obligations and should provide all available facilities for the children at present. The administration should not deny its failure in implementing laws and policies and enjoy impunity. They should be aware that their negligence has been contributing to India having the highest number of child malnutrition and starvation deaths in Asia. I am further of the opinion that the duty of the administration is not to provide 30 kilograms of rice and 2000 rupees, which is not even sufficient for emergency, after people die of hunger and sicknesses, but to prevent death and hunger among the poor in the country.

I therefore urge you to intervene in this particular case, punishing those responsible for negligence, as well as seek ways to prevent deaths and ensure freedom from hunger in the future.

I look forward to your immediate and proper response to this case.




1. Mr. Naveen Patnaik
Chief Minister
Naveen Nivas, Aerodrome Road
751001 Orissa

2. Mr. B.K Patnaik
Chief Secretary, Panchayati Raj
Government of Odisha, Bhubaneswar

3. Arti Ahuja
Women and Child Development Department
Government of Odisha
Fax: +91 674 2396 756

4. Mr. Santosh Sarangi, (IAS)
ST & SC Development, Minorities Backward Classes Welfare Department
Government of Odisha
Bhubaneswar, Odisha
Fax: +91 674 2396806

5. Anu Garg
Department of Health and Family Welfare
Government of Odisha
FAX: +91 674 240 0674

6. Collector
Collector & District Magistrate
Puri district
752001, Odisha
FAX: +91 6752 223939

7. Prof. Shantha Sinha
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
Government of India
5th Floor, Chanderlok Building, 36, Janpath
New Delhi - 110 001
Fax: +91 11 23731584

8. Secretary
Orissa Human Rights Commission,
Toshali Bhawan(2nd Floor),Satyanagar,
Odisha, INDIA
Fax: +91 674 257 2010


Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Hunger Alert Update
Document ID : AHRC-HAU-003-2011
Countries : India,
Issues : Poverty & adequate standard of living, Right to food, Right to health,