THE FAMILY of the 11-year-old girl who died in Jharkhand’s Simdega district last month, allegedly due to non-availability of ration, had been removed from the state’s public distribution system because their Aadhaar cards were not linked to the new list issued by the government.
At Karimati in Simdega’s Jaldega block, this is the only fact that everyone agrees upon — the family, their neighbours, panchayat members, even local officials.
As The Indian Express found during a visit to the village on Wednesday, every other aspect of the girl’s death is a question of one version versus the other. The girl’s family insists that she died because of lack of food while other residents, the local medical practitioner, and district officials say she died due to malaria.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Koyli Devi, mother of Santoshi Kumari who died on September 28, said she and two other members of her family had Aadhaar cards since 2013. “We had gone to the PDS shop at Patiamba, about 5 km away, some seven-eight months ago. They told us that our names were not on the list. We did not go there again,” she said. Also Read | Kin of 11-yr-old who ‘died of starvation’ had Aadhaar, says UIDAI
Denying that her daughter died due to any illness, Koyli said, “I did not go to any doctor with my daughter, nor did anybody come visiting here. We did not have grains in our house, due to which my daughter finally died.”
Koyli’s elder daughter Gudiya Devi, 26, said, “The last time we bought rice was around a month-and-a-half ago.”
Koyli and Gudiya, however, admitted that they did not approach anyone to complain about lack of rations. “We earn our living by selling wood from the forest. One or two bundles would fetch us around Rs 40-50 per day. We used to make do with whatever we could buy from that,” said Koyli, a mother of seven who has now lost three children due to various reasons, including illness.
Gudiya said, “We also took up odd jobs as labourers in Lachragarh, around 18 km away, once in a while. We would not get work on a daily basis, but when we did, we earned around Rs 150 per day. My father (Tatya Naik) is mentally ill, and often wanders in the wild.”
Koyli said the family had got a house built under the Indira Awas Yojana nearly 25 years ago on the outskirts of Karimati. “But that is in tatters and we were forced to shift to this house,” she said. Also Read | Jharkhand Minister Saryu Roy questions his Govt on Aadhaar drive
Simdega Deputy Commissioner Manjunath Bhajantri confirmed that the family stopped getting ration in February.
“The PDS dealer had been giving them rations since October 2016, when the e-PoS (Point of Sale) system was launched. He reminded the family repeatedly to get their Aadhaar cards linked to the system. But they did not respond and the ration was stopped in February. The family did not complain or approach anyone. In August, their names got struck off from the list of beneficiaries,” said Bhajantari.
“There were clear instructions that under no circumstances should ration be stopped. This should have been ensured, and this has led to action against the PDS dealer and the Block Supply Officer,” the official said, adding that the dealer’s licence has been suspended.
In a controversial move this April, the Jharkhand Chief Secretary had ordered that ration cards not linked to Aadhaar would be ineligible. The state’s PDS Minister Saryu Roy had questioned the move, telling this newspaper on Tuesday that confusion resulting from this order had affected many beneficiaries.
At Karimati, meanwhile, residents insist that Santoshi died due to malaria.
Panchayat member Sunita Dang said, “Koyli had brought a medicine to show me, which I realised was past its expiry date. I advised her to get in touch with a doctor. However, the family has not been getting any ration for months.”
Rajeshwari Singh, member of a village self-help group, said, “Koyli is a member of the group, which was formed 18 months ago. We are yet to start any business, but we have been giving help to needy women. We have helped at least three women who are either disabled or are facing problems due to illness. Had Koyli been facing any problem due to lack of rations, we would have come to know and definitely helped.”
Other residents, who did not wish to speak on record, alleged that some members of Santoshi’s family were addicted to alcohol, which led to “their poor situation”.
However, Koyli denied the allegation and claimed that she did not ask anyone for help because “if there is nothing with me, what would have I returned?”
Deputy Commissioner Bhajantri said, “We have gone through the documents of the registered medical practitioner, the medicines he gave and the finding that Santoshi Kumari had malaria. Even her mother, when she was admitted to Sadar Hospital, was found to be having malaria.”
Narayan Singh, the medical practitioner, said, “I had gone to their home on September 26. With the help of a medical kit, I found that the girl had malaria. I gave her some medicines, too. She felt better the next day and there was no fever. I also gave her an injection. When I visited their house on September 29, I was told she had died.”