INDIA: Starvation death, malnutrition, government corruption and inaction

13 September 2004

HA-01-2004: INDIA: Severe hunger in eastern Uttar Pradesh State

INDIA: Starvation death, malnutrition, government corruption and inaction

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Social Development Foundation, Delhi, India about persistent starvation and malnutrition in villages of Sonebhadra district, eastern Uttar Pradesh. The affected villagers are all Adivasis, or tribal people, who have been involved in a land dispute with the forest department. While the case has dragged on for some ten years, and attracted the attention of local rights and development organisations, it remains unresolved and meanwhile local people are starving to death.

The AHRC urges you to write to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to ensure that his government intervene and arrest the situation.

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


Staff from the Social Development Foundation, Delhi visited Sonebhadra district, eastern Uttar Pradesh in August 2004 and found that despite headline attention being directed to the area after starvation deaths occurred there in 2003, severe widespread malnutrition persists throughout the region. The staff found a group of some 40 Adivasi villagers had travelled over 40kms through the monsoon on foot to the district headquarters in Robertsganj to complain about food shortages to the district magistrate.

Most of the group work as labourers for farmers; they have either been distributed barren land by the authorities, or have been promised land but not given it. A woman villager, Kalwati, aged about 30, says, “I have a son and we live in a hut. For the last two months we have had nothing to eat. We are eating forest produce. What else can we eat?” Most of the plants the villagers take from the forest consist of roots and leaves. In photograph 1 & photograph 2, two Adivasi women at the district office display these roots and leaves, which they eat because they don’t have anything else.

The village of Raup is typical of those inhabited by Adivasis facing slow death from malnutrition. Nineteen children died of hunger there over a one-month period in 2003. After a petition on the deaths was filed to the National Human Rights Commission, it issued notices to the state government, which in response sent officials to investigate. Subsequently, the government fulfilled its obligation to ensure the food availability of the families in the village by giving each 5kgs of wheat, 2lts of kerosene, 2.5kgs of rice and 2.5kgs of potatoes. Similarly, civic groups made a number of short-term interventions. Upon visiting the village, the staff of the Social Development Foundation observed that conditions are unchanged as a result of these activities, and numerous persons are still suffering from life-threatening hunger. Photograph 3 & photograph 4 show severely malnourished children in Raup. In the event the children become sick, there are no medical facilities nearby. Photograph 5 shows a man holding the leaves that villagers eat. This man lost his two children from malnutrition-related illness last year. Photograph 6 shows an old widow who has not received a pension, despite completing all the formalities to obtain one.

The area where the Adivasis are located has been the subject of lengthy and complicated land disputes, and massive corruption, involving the forestry and revenue departments, and local government officials. A Supreme Court order ten years ago instructed officials to conduct a survey into land in the region for the purposes of recognising the land rights of local Adivasi populations, but the responsible officials have dragged out the process and subjected it to various malpractices for their own advantage. Meanwhile, the plight of the villagers has attracted the interest of numerous non-governmental groups, but most have done little other than make occasional interventions and a few charitable gestures that have no long-term effect.

The public distribution system responsible for distribution of rationed articles within the country has ignored the plight of this community. In spite of having enough knowledge about severe malnutrition and deaths due to starvation the district medical officer or any officials attached to the medical services has not taken any effective steps to attend to the immediate requirement of this community.

Please write to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to express concern over this case. A sample letter follows.


Dear Mr Yadav

Re: Severe malnutrition in Sonebhadra District

I am deeply disturbed to hear of persistent widespread hunger in Sonebhadra district, eastern Uttar Pradesh, despite national and international attention already having been directed to the intolerable conditions there.

According to information I have received, Adivasi villagers have been travelling long distances through the monsoon on foot to complain about food shortages to disinterested district officials. They report having to survive on roots and leaves that they have gathered from the forest.

Although I understand that your government acted on notices by the National Human Rights Commission regarding starvation deaths in Raup village, Sonebhadra district during 2003, the intervention was limited to contributions of small amounts of food and kerosene. Unfortunately, single acts of charity do nothing to alleviate long-term conditions of hunger caused by malpractices of government officers and centuries-old social inequities. In this case it is necessary to ensure that the Adivasi communities obtain viable land for cultivation and other support needed to ensure its productivity. This in turn requires consistent monitoring and commitment to the principles of social justice on the part of you and your government, lest efforts to ostensibly assist these persons serve only to exacerbate their suffering. Accordingly, issues of land entitlement and agrarian reform should be at the top of your government’s agenda.

In this regard, I would like to remind you that you have obligations under international and national law to all persons residing in the state of Uttar Pradesh to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food. I urge you to immediately mobilize the state machinery to provide immediate care and support to the people at Raup village and to attend to the immediate requirement of adequate nutrition and necessary food for this community failing which your government could be held responsible for genocide. I trust that you will do your utmost to ensure that these obligations are met, and that the food needs of the population in Sonebhadra are properly and urgently addressed.

Yours sincerely



Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister’s Secretariat
Uttar Pradesh
Fax: +91-522-2230002/2239234


1. Mr Alok Kumar
District Magistrate
Uttar Pradesh

2. Justice A. S. Anand
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhaven, Sansad Marg,
New Delhi 110 001
Tel: +91 11 23346244
Fax: +91 11 23366537

3. Justice S S Rajendra Babu
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India
New Delhi 110001
Fax: +91 11 2 338 3792/1508

4. Justice A P Mishra
Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission
6-A Kalidass Marg
27 Park Road
Uttar Pradesh
Tel: +91-522-2726742
Fax: +91-522-2726743

5. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UNCHR Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Fax: 41 22 9179010

6. Mr Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan,
Bangkok 10330
Tel: +66-2-6554115
Fax: +66-2-6554413
Email: or;/font>

7. Mr Pedro Medrano Rojas
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg,
Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
Tel: +91-11-26150000
Fax: +91-11-26150019

Thank you.

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

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