Three hunger deaths may not be first in Delhi, say activists

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New Delhi : The shocking starvation deaths of three minor girls may not be the first such incident in the national capital, which despite being the second wealthiest city in India, is battling food crisis and malnutrition of children, an activist said on Thursday.

While deaths due to hunger are not uncommon in India that ranks 100th out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index, social activist Anjali Bhardwaj said such fatalities in the capital may have gone unreported earlier.

"This has not happened for the first time. This time, it has come out very starkly," she told IANS.

"Starvation is very often difficult to prove. But it has clearly come out in the autopsy reports this time. Many a time, when children die due to malnutrition or starvation, it doesn't even get reported. They say they died of some disease."

Food insecurity and malnutrition amongst children in Delhi, she said, is "a huge issue".

"Many are falling ill, losing their life. They keep dying silently. There is no post-mortem conducted in many cases," she added.

Arvind Singh, Adviser to Matrisudha, a charitable trust that promotes curative care of malnourished children through community participation, on Thursday spent entire day at the house in Mandawali, where the three sisters -- aged two, four and eight -- were found in an unconscious state. They were later declared dead at a city hospital.

The family had shifted to this house two-three days before the girls died on Tuesday.

"They were living in very poor condition. Even though there was an Anganwadi centre, very close to this place, one doesn't know wheheter the three kids were enrolled there or not as they had shifted recently," Singh said.

He said such incidents have not been heard of in Delhi before probably because "for political establishments, it is unthinkable that someone died of starvation".

The mother of the three girls, according to police, is "not stable" and she could not look after the kids because of her mental illness.

Singh said that it was difficult for him to figure out the mental state of the mother, who, he said, "kept lying in one corner".

Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Pankaj Kumar Singh said that teams were deployed to trace the father, who has been missing since Tuesday morning.

Since 1975, the government has been running the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme to provide food, pre-school education and primary healthcare to children under six years of age and their mothers.

According to a performance audit of ICDS, conducted in 2012 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD), total number of malnourished children studying in class one to four, exceeded the 40 per cent mark in 10 states/ union territories -- Andhra Pradesh - 49 per cent, Bihar - 82 per cent, Haryana - 43 per cent, Jharkhand - 40 per cent, Odisha - 50 per cent; Rajasthan - 43 per cent, Uttar Pradesh - 41 per cent, Delhi - 50 percent, Daman and Diu - 50 per cent and Lakshadweep by 40 per cent.

"My biggest concern is -- how many children below the age of six were included in the ICDS programme," said Singh.

"There have been programmes launched by the government, but whether these schemes are reaching the beneficiaries is questionable," said Singh.

He said from mid-day meal scheme to the Public Distribution System (PDS), a proper implementation and execution is lacking.

Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia attributed the death of the three sisters to "system failure", saying it is a matter of great concern for all.

While the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), calling it "an inhuman incident", blamed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government for doing "nothing on the complaint of fake ration cards", the Congress held both the state and Central governments responsible for the tragedy.

"The political parties, instead of blaming each other for the incident, should rather come up with a permanent solution to this problem," Delhi Food Banking Network Founder Kuldeep Nar said.