Days after the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took suo motu cognisance of a media report about a five year old girl who died allegedly due to starvation, and issued a notice to it, the Uttar Pradesh government seems to be in damage control mode.
According to information shared by the Times Of India journalist who had filed the initial report of the child dying, allegedly due to illness and starvation, the UP administration has announced that the family will now get state benefits including “ration card, bank a/c, free edu, gas, power supply. Plan to provide suitable housing facility under PM Awas Yojna. Medical treatment for father and MNREGA job card for mother.”
TIMES IMPACT: Kins of 5-yr-old child who died due to starvation and sickness will be getting ration card, bank a/c, free edu, gas, power supply. Plan to provide suitable housing facility under PM Awas Yojna. Medical treatment for father and MNREGA job card for mother. @pra0902 pic.twitter.com/1nzbQcyYy5
— Deepak-Lavania (@dklavaniaTOI) August 24, 2020
Ironically, it was only after the child’s tragic death was reposted that the Agra administration ‘helped’ the surviving family with rations including, “40kg rice, 50kg wheat & 5 litres of cooking oil,” and they were given vegetables, fruits etc and other daily essentials. According to TOI’s reporter, “DM Agra Prabhu N Singh has also ordered the officials concerned.”
@OfficeOfDMAgra @upgov has come forward to help the poor family. 40kg rice, 50kg wheat & 5 litres of cooking oil, supplied. locals have also provided them vegetables, fruits and other daily essentials. DM Agra Prabhu N Singh has also ordered the officials concerned… (@pra0902) https://t.co/kbwziZLKoD pic.twitter.com/C8ssd9nQ9E
— Deepak-Lavania (@dklavaniaTOI) August 23, 2020
This begs the question; why none of this help was provided to the child and her family while she was still alive? Timely action, perhaps could have saved her life. According to the TOI report, the child and her family, who lives in Nagla Vidhichand village in Agra district, had gone without food for over a week. The five-year-old, identified as Sonia died on Friday night, hungry.
This is the second time the family has lost a child due to apparent government apathy. Their son, Rohit, had died, reportedly under similar circumstances when the family ran out of money after the sudden demonetisation was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016. The mother, Sheela, is now concerned about the fragile health of her 45-year-old husband Pappu Singh, who TOI reports, has been to help families like theirs secure food in the lockdown. Pappu Singh is a daily wager who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, but cannot afford medication. The couple also has two other surviving children.
The NHRC issued a notice to the Chief Secretary of Government of Uttar Pradesh asking for a detailed report to be submitted within four weeks, including details of relief and rehabilitation provided to the family by the administration. It has also asked to be informed what action has been “taken against the delinquent officials” who were responsible for letting this tragedy happen. The NHRC stated that, “the Chief Secretary is also expected to issue instructions to all the district authorities to ensure that such incidents of cruelty and negligence should not recur in future.”
The NHRC called this matter a “a serious issue of violation of human rights due to gross negligence by the local administration,” adding if the authorities had been “sincere and vigilant, loss of a precious human life could have been averted.” The NHRC’s strongly worded notice reiterates that the “State cannot escape its liability and there is a need to fix the responsibility of the public servants who have not acted in accordance with the law to help the aggrieved family.”
According to the NHRC statement, “The girl was living with her parents and sister at Nagla Vidhichand village in Agra’s Baroli Ahir block.The family was without any work for about a month and in recent weeks the family went without food. Many families in the localities like them do not have a ration card. The five-year-old girl Sonia had become weak and had fever for three days. She could not bear the pain and succumbed to illness and hunger on Friday night.“
The local authorities reportedly did nothing to help the family like securing food in the lockdown-induced crisis. The District Administration has said it will find out where things went wrong and they have taken cognizance of the matter and an investigation has been ordered into the child’s death. Further, the District Administration said that the family has buried the body, which they should not have done as a postmortem would have ascertained the cause of death. Reportedly, the District Magistrate, has agreed that the families are suffering and he will ensure that all possible help is provided to the family.
The NHRC has observed that the child had “apparently died due to starvation and illness while a number of social welfare schemes run by the Central and the State Government do exist. During the period of lock down, the government agencies have specifically introduced a number of schemes for the poor, migrant labourers and other vulnerable sections of the society.” It added that even though the State Government made several statements that they are committed to ensure Right to Food, Shelter and Livelihood for the poor people, “this heart wrenching incident shows a different picture.”
The Commission noted that welfare schemes are not reaching the beneficiaries, and that this family, “is not only financially poor but also belongs to the Scheduled Caste for which special schemes have been announced by the Central and the State governments.”