INDIA: Pregnant mother dies of starvation in Nadia District, West Bengal

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) regarding the death by starvation of a young pregnant mother. Ms. Bulbuli Paul, a pregnant 25 year-old mother of two, died at almost full term (nine months). The cause of death was reported as malnutrition by the health officer of the village. 

Bulbuli’s death and malnourished state is the result of the living conditions in her village and her husband’s job situation. Bulbuli’s husband is unable to provide food for his family and although the family is living in abject poverty, they are not under any government or independent poverty alleviation schemes.  

The AHRC urges you to write to the authorities in West Bengal and the Nadia district and bring to their attention the plight of Ms. Paul’s family and many others who reside in her village. Further, we ask you to press that government assistance must be provided to the victims in the area to prevent another starvation death from occurring.

Urgent Appeals Desk — Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


Location: Village of Kechuadanga, Karimpur, Nadia District, West Bengal, India           
Name of victim: Ms. Bulbuli Paul, age 25, wife of Mr. Buddhadeb Paul and mother of two sons                    
Cause of death: Malnutrition/starvation      
Place and date of death: early hours of Tuesday, March 9, 2005 at Karimpur Rural Hospital, Nadia

MASUM reports that Ms. Bulbuli Paul, a 25 year-old mother of two sons and almost nine months pregnant with her third, died in the early hours of March 9, 2005 of malnutrition and starvation. She was brought to the Karimpur Rural Hospital on the evening of March 8, 2005 complaining of breathing problems and weakness due to lack of food. The hospital did not have the resources to treat her and she was referred to the Saktinagar District Hospital. Further, medical officer Dr. R.N. Biswas noted that the rural hospital only had one ambulance to service the entire community and many times could not transport critical patients. The family however, lacking the Rs. 600/- ambulance fee, could not afford to transport Bulbuli to the hospital. She died shortly thereafter. 

According to Block Health Officer Dr. Subrata Das, malnutrition was the primary cause of Ms. Paul’s death. The doctor also commented that when admitted to the hospital, it was apparent the patient was undernourished and suffering. In fact, the entire family has been suffering from lack of food for the past year as Bulbuli’s husband has not been able to secure permanent wages. Buddhadeb Paul works as a betel leaves cultivator and the industry has seen a sharp decline in prices over the past year. Consequently, jobs are now scarce and Mr. Paul is often out of work. He no longer is able to support his wife and children and the family is now living in abject poverty. 

Elected member of the Karimpur Gram Panchayat (village council), Ms. Banani Mondal, stated that currently, the betel plant growers and their families are destitute and the government is doing nothing for their survival. MASUM also contacted Block Development Officer of Karimpur-I Block Mr. Soumitra Sankar Sengupta and President of Marimpur I Panchayat Samity Mr. Sadhan Halder who both divulged that the Paul family was not on the Below Poverty Line (BPL) list. The affected family is also not enlisted in other government run protective schemes including General Relief, Antyodaya, Annapurna, and Jahar Rojgar Yojana. 


Bulbuli’s husband, Buddhadeb Paul, is employed by the betel leaves cultivation industry. He is a daily wage labourer which implies his salary depends on job availability. When working, Mr. Paul earns Rs. 30/- per day, however at the time of his wife’s death, he had been unemployed for seven days. 

In 2003, the price of betel leaves fell drastically. As a result, employees of the industry were greatly affected; salaries were reduced and job availability decreased significantly. The little compensation provided by the government was inadequate and thus many people in the Karimpur village may suffer the same fate as the Paul family. Two betel leaves workers have already committed suicide in the village. Further, many of the betel leaves growers are still not under the various government sponsored poverty alleviation schemes. 

MASUM also writes: “This is yet another case of death caused by hunger. A lot of government welfare programmes exist throughout the country but due to corrupt administration, some of these programmes are futile. The government cannot shed their responsibilities for the premature and unfortunate death of Bulbuli Paul.” 


Please write to the Chief Minister of West Bengal, District Magistrate of Nadia, and other related government officials condemning their neglect and urging them to provide assistance to Bulbuli Paul’s family and community. 


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Dear Mr. Bhattacharjee

Re: INDIA: Pregnant mother dies of starvation in Nadia district, West Bengal

I am deeply disturbed to learn of the starvation death of Ms. Bulbuli Paul, a 25 year-old pregnant mother of two. She died in the early hours of Tuesday, March 9, 2005, shortly after seeking medical attention at the rural hospital in Karimpur. She leaves behind two young sons and her husband, Buddhadeb Paul. 

According to the information I have received, Ms. Paul’s death was primarily caused by malnutrition and starvation and Block Medical Officer Dr. Subrata Das confirmed this. Ms. Paul had not eaten several days before her death and was brought to the hospital complaining of severe breathing difficulty and hunger. Unfortunately, the Karimpur Rural Hospital was lacking the resources necessary to treat her and Ms. Paul was referred to the Saktinagar District Hospital. The family, however, was unable to raise the Rs. 600/- ambulance fee to transport her. 

Starvation cases and poverty are ever increasing in the village of Kechuadanga. The majority of families, including Bulbuli’s, are employed in betel leaves cultivation. In 2003, the industry suffered a great decline and as a result families are now suffering. Wages are Rs. 30 /- per day and insufficient, and now jobs are scarce. Buddhadeb Paul had been unemployed for seven days at the time of his wife’s death. Further, it is reported that two betel leaves workers committed suicide to end their suffering. 

It is tragic that this young woman has died. It is additionally disheartening to hear that none of the families are listed under any of India’s government-run poverty alleviation schemes. I trust that you and your administration will further investigate into this matter and provide assistance to the Paul family. I further request you provide assistance to other poverty-stricken families employed by the betel leaves industry to ensure they do not suffer the same fate as Ms. Bulbuli Paul. 

Yours sincerely,


1. Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister 
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata – 700001
West Bengal
Tel: +91 33 2214 5555 (O) / 2280 0631 (R) 
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480 / 2214 1341

2. District Magistrate, Nadia
Administrative Building
1st Floor, A-Block
P O Kirhshnanagar
Nadia, West Bengal
Tel: +91 34 7225 1001
Fax: +91 34 7225 2294

3. Mr. Narendranath Dey
Minister of Food and Supplies
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata – 700001
West Bengal
Tel: +91 33 2252 1388
Fax: +91 33 2252 2628 

4. Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra
Minster of Health and Family Welfare
Government of West Bengal
Writer’s Building, Kolkata – 700001
West Bengal
Tel: +91 33 2214 5600
Fax: +91 33 2214 5306/2215 5326


1. Justice A. S. Anand
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhaven, Sansad Marg,
New Delhi 110 001
Tel: + 91 11 23346244
Fax: + 91 11 23366537
E-mail: or

2. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633

3. Mr. Jean Ziegler
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066  
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Fax: +41 22 9179010 

4. Mr Pedro Medrano Rojas
Country Director
World Food Programme 
2 Poorvi Marg, 
Vasant Vihar, 
New Delhi 110057
Tel: +91 11 26150000
Fax: +9111 26150019

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme — Hunger Alert 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Document Type : Hunger Alert Case
Document ID : HA-04-2005
Countries : India,
Issues : Right to health,