- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

NEW DELHI India's Supreme Court took 15 state governments to task this week for letting millions of people suffer from hunger and set them on a two-week deadline to implement a national food-distribution program.
The court was hearing a petition from a human rights group, the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), which said an estimated 208 million Indians were faced with "chronic hunger."
A two-judge bench ordered the 15 state administrations to explain why they had not yet identified "the people living below the poverty line" in their states who are entitled to cheap rations according to federal law.
"The court has hauled up all the sleeping administrations by issuing notices to them," said G. Bhushan, a lawyer at the court hearing. "They have been given a two-week window to complete their list-building exercise so that the poor can get the food rations they so badly need."
According to a federal law, people identified by state administrations as living below the poverty line are entitled to receive each month 55 pounds of good grains for four cents.
"At the end of the day, the government is spending **4 cents] on the poor … . They should at least get it, instead of excess food stocks rotting in overstuffed state granaries," added Mr. Bhushan.
The court gave Orissa, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Goa, Tripura, Manipur, Uttaranchal, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Pondicherry, Chandigarh and Lakshadweep until Sept. 17 to complete their lists.
Quoting government figures, the PUCL had earlier stated that out of 360 million people living below the poverty line, more than 50 million were in danger of starvation.
"Already there are reports of starvation deaths. Over and above this, many people are facing starvation and will die soon if nothing is done immediately to alleviate their misery," the group said.
News media have reported hunger-related deaths in six Indian states, including the flood-hit eastern Indian state of Orissa and the northern desert state of Rajasthan.
The Supreme Court expressed "shock" at the apathy with which at least two states had dealt with hunger.
While a bumper crop last year has produced 50 million tons of food grains far in excess of the 20 million tons required to feed a nation of 1 billion people six Indian states have experienced severe drought: Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Bihar.
In fact, some Indian states are in their third straight year of drought.
In the desert state of Rajasthan, half of all children below age three are undernourished, about half of all adult women suffer from anemia, and half the rural population lives below the poverty line.
In western Maharashtra, drought prevails in 26 of 35 districts, affecting as many as 20,000 villages and a total population of 45 million people, the petition said.


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