State food minister Jyotipriya Mullick on Tuesday seemed to be substantiating his claims that the seven deaths at a Raipur tea garden were due to “natural causes” by quoting from a report filed by a medical health officer in the district.
Citing the medical report, Mullick claimed that three persons, all adults, had died of cerebrovascular accident (a stroke) while another died of tuberculosis. Of the two infants, the minister said, while one died of intracranial haemorrhage during delivery, the other because of low birth weight. “Jalpaiguri’s chief medical health officer has visited the place (from where the deaths were reported) and taken stock of the situation. There is no question of malnutrition (being the cause of deaths),” he said.
The minister’s statement is another in the series of claims that have emerged since the deaths were first reported, with initial reports, one of which was by the state government’s labour minister Purnendu Bose, putting the cause as either malnutrition or starvation.
Mullick, meanwhile, admitted there exists a huge gap between the demand of food grain in the area than what is being actually supplied.
“So far I was under the impression that there were 2,282 people at Raipur tea garden, with 2,713 of them workers. Upon inspection, however, I found the number of residents to be only about 1,600. This means that the given food supply for over 600 people stands unaccounted. I have commissioned a team to look into this discrepancy, which also exists in the number of closed tea gardens. We have been supplying resources for 94,328 people but I have now found that there are only 92,631 of them,” he said.
Mullick also said that 1.25 kg of rice was allocated per unit (each adult of a family is one unit and a child is half unit) per week at Rs 2 per kg. Wheat (750 gm a unit), too, was distributed every week at Rs 2 per kg, along with 125 gm of sugar at Rs 13.5 kg and 750 ml of kerosene at Rs 15.50 per head per month. “Each month 96 quintal of rice, 58 quintal of wheat, over 11 quintal of sugar and 1.712 kilolitre of kerosene is being allocated,” Mullick said, adding that his team would submit a report to him in a couple of days about where the excess food grain has gone to. “I have also engaged three officers solely to monitor the quality of food grain supplied to these beneficiaries because I have a feeling that the superior quality was getting replaced somewhere along the way with inferior ones,” the minister alleged.
A team of doctors from North Bengal Medical College, which surveyed the Raipur tea garden Tuesday, however, reported that cases of malnutrition exist in plenty. Dr Biswajit Das Majumder, one of the team members, said that many of those affected include children.
“Besides, we have also detected a number of acute dermatological cases which I don’t think can be cured here,” he said. Another member of the team, Dr Nandita Das said many women in the area are anaemic and in need of proper treatment and a regular diet.