UPDATE (India): Starvation deaths continue despite government’s commitment to provide food assistance in West Bengal

[Re: UA-161-2005: INDIA: Human rights defender physically assaulted, threatened and detained by government officials; HU-04-2005: INDIA: UNICEF still avoiding responsibility in providing assistance to starving women and children in West Bengal; UA-59-2005: INDIA: Police attack on human rights defender and his family in Murshidabad, West Bengal; HA-02-2005: INDIA: Starvation deaths occurring in Murshidabad district, West Bengal]

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information from Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) regarding the current hunger situation in Jalangi, Murshidabad, West Bengal. After months of suffering from hunger and malnutrition, the people of Jalangi were delighted to hear that their names would now be listed under state welfare schemes. However, five days after this victory, another starvation death occurred in the district, pointing to the failures of the Public Distribution System (PDS) in West Bengal.

The AHRC urges you to request for an immediate investigation into the matter, pressing upon the appropriate authorities to take responsibility for the inefficient and ineffective welfare schemes currently found in West Bengal. While the government’s action of listing victims under the PDS is commendable, it is still inadequate in protecting the right to food in India.

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


On September 4, 2005, the villagers of Jalangi, Murshidabad rejoiced at the good news; over 500 names, submitted by Masum, were added to about 20 ration dealer shops throughout the district. This meant that for the first time, the hunger victims in Jalangi would benefit from subsidized food through the Public Distribution System (PDS). Men, women and children in the area ran to the ration shops, eager to celebrate the seeming victory.

Masum had previously submitted the names to local authorities in March 2005, and met with the Block Development Officer and District Magistrate in Murshidabad, and the governor of West Bengal about the hunger crisis in mid-July. They were concerned that if the government did not act quickly to help the victims, violence was imminent in Jalangi. 
However, on September 9, 2005, the severity of the hunger crisis in Jalangi was realized again. Hazrat Mollah, aged 55, died of starvation in Dayarampur village. He had been suffering from malnutrition for a long period of time.

Hazrat’s name was one of the many that had been submitted to the PDS (SL. No. 64). However, he was still unable to provide food for himself and unfortunately, passed away only five days after being afforded assistance.

This is not the first instance where the inefficiency of the PDS has resulted in hunger and starvation in West Bengal. It has been reported on several occasions that the quality or quantity of assistance is insufficient, that ration shops are closed, or that one has been denied food assistance even when providing proof of being a ration card holder.


For over 10 years, the Padma River has been eroding. Many homes and livelihoods have disappeared because of the swelling river, and the result has been the starving villagers in Jalangi. In recent years, the erosion has worsened and the hunger situation has grown significantly. 

Several hunger deaths have been reported in the area, most recently on March 7, 2005. Please see HA-02-2005 for more details pertaining to the hunger crisis that persists.

Moreover, hunger and starvation in Jalangi has been a highly sensitive issue for the local authorities in Murshidabad. Mr. Gopen Sharma, a human rights worker from the area, has been threatened and attacked on numerous occasions by police and government officials for supporting the victims of hunger. Please see UA-59-2005 and UA-161-2005 for more information.


Please write a letter to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and other related officials, urging them to investigate the situation. Please request that the appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that the Public Distribution System in the state provides sufficient and nutritious food assistance to its beneficiaries. Furthermore, please ask that the PDS be monitored to ensure it works properly, where by being placed under welfare schemes guarantees that quality food assistance is provided. 


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Dear ____________

RE: INDIA: Starvation deaths continue despite government’s commitment to provide food assistance in West Bengal

I was recently updated as to the current situation of hunger in Jalangi, Murshidabad and am shocked to learn that despite progress made, another starvation death has occurred in the area.

I was informed that on September 4, 2005 over 500 names of hunger victims in Jalangi had been added to the list of welfare recipients at public ration shops throughout the area. In the months leading up to this victory, the victims had been fighting for food assistance and were growing frustrated with the lack of action on the government’s part. Furthermore, many were angered that while the Padma River continue to erode, the villagers who lost their homes, land and jobs were not provided any rehabilitation, compensation or assistance. If the Padma River erosion was arrested, the villagers could then rebuild their lives and eventually provide for their own needs.

However, despite the elation of receiving assistance, hunger still persists in Jalangi. On September 9, 2005, it was reported that another starvation death occurred in the area. Hazrat Mollah, aged 55, had been suffering from severe malnutrition and died five days after being afforded assistance. His name was one of the hundreds placed under the Public Distribution System (PDS).

I am extremely disappointed to have learned of the inadequate assistance being provided to victims of hunger through the PDS. There have been several reports made regarding the failings of the PDS, which includes poor quality and quantity of food, irregular ration shop hours, and of outright denial of food distributed by ration dealers.

I strongly urge you to investigate this matter and into the inner workings of the PDS in West Bengal. The local authorities must ensure that adequate, sufficient and fair assistance be provided to hunger victims under welfare schemes so that starvation deaths do not continue to occur in Jalangi. 



Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister/ Minister of Home Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer’s Building
Kolkata – 700 001
West Bengal
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480/ 2214 1341


1. Mr. Manjunath Prasad
District Magistrate – Murshidabad 
West Bengal
Fax: +91 34 8225 0145

2. Mr. Biswanath Choudhury
Minister of Social Welfare Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer’s Building
Kolkata – 700 001
West Bengal
Fax: +91 33 2214 5452
E-mail: micjail@wb.gov.in

3. Mr. Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings
Kolkata – 700001
West Bengal

4. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Kolkata – 700027
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in

5. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, OHCHR, Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch 

6. Mr. Gian Pietro Bordignon 
Country Director
World Food Programme 
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar, 
New Delhi – 110057
Tel: +91 11 2615 0001
Fax: +91 11 2615 0019

Thank you.

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

Document Type : Hunger Alert Update
Document ID : HU-07-2005
Countries : India,
Issues : Right to food,