Recommendations of the Commission with regard to starvation deaths in KBK Districts of Orissa -- Right to Food
The Commission has been dealing with allegations of starvation deaths in KBK Districts of Orissa since December 1996 when reports of such deaths were brought to its notice by Shri Chaturanan Mishra, the then Union Minister for Agriculture. The issue was also raised in Writ Petition (Civil) No.42/97 filed before the Supreme Court of India on 23 December 1996 by the Indian Council of Legal Aid and Advice and Others. On learning that the Commission had taken cognizance of this matter; the Supreme Court made the following observation in its Order dated 26 July 1997:
“In view of the fact that the National Human Rights Commission is seized of the matter and is expected to give its report after an enquiry made at the spot, it would be appropriate to await the report.
Learned Council for the petitioner submitted that some interim directions are required to be given in the meantime. If that be so, the petitioner is permitted to approach the National Human Rights Commission with his suggestions. So far as this Court is concerned, the matter would be considered even for this purpose on receiving the report of the National Human Rights Commission.
We also consider it appropriate to require the Union of India to appear before the National Human Rights Commission to assist the Commission in such manner as the Commission may require for the purpose of completion of the task of the Commission. The learned Addl. Solicitor General undertakes to ensure prompt steps being taken for this purpose.
Earlier, n its order dated 28 April 1997; the Supreme Court had observed that “The learned Advocate General stated that all directions given by the NHRC even when they are of an interim nature, would be promptly complied with by the State Government.”
Pursuant to the Orders of the Supreme Court, the Indian Council of Legal Aid and Advice filed a petition before the Commission on 1 September 1997 making a number of suggestions in regard to interim reliefs to the affected population.
Since then, the Commission has been monitoring the situation in the KBK Districts of Orissa and making recommendations to the State Government in this regard. In its Proceedings dated 17 February 1998, the Commission had set out concrete interim measures that were required to be undertaken, specifying their details in terms of location, time-frames and quantitative targets, the manner of their implementation and the monitoring mechanism that should be set in place in order to ensure the efficiency, integrity and accountability of the efforts that must be made. A practical programme of interim measures was thus evolved and agreed upon by all the parties concerned in a cooperative effort that involved the petitioners, the State Government and the Central Government working together under the guidance and auspices of the Commission. The programme covered:
(i) Rural Water Supply Schemes;
(ii) Public Health Care;
(iii) Social Security Schemes, which included Old Age/Widows/Disability Pension Schemes, Emergency Feeding Programme, Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the Public Distribution System;
(iv) Water and Soil Conservation Measures;
(v) Rural Development Schemes, such as the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, Indira Awas Yojana, Million Wells Scheme, Employment Assurance Scheme etc. The benefits of these schemes were to be maximized by linking them consciously to employment generating projects.
The Commission also requested the State Government to constitute a Committee to examine all aspects of the question of land reforms in the KBK Districts.
With the help of its Special Rapporteur, the Commission has been monitoring the situation in the KBK Districts on a continuing basis since early 1998, concentrating on the execution of interim measures, examining the quarterly Performance Appraisal Report relating to the achievement of physical and financial targets.
On 17 January 2003, the Commission made detailed recommendations to the State Government specifically in the areas of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation, Primary Health Care, Social Security Schemes, Soil Conservation Programme, Rural Development Programme, Afforestation, Land Reforms, Distress Sale of Paddy, Long Term Measures for Development and the need for State Level Monitoring.
The Commission has recommended that the KBK region of Orissa should be considered for Special Category Status in view of the persistent problems of chronic destitution, hunger, ill-health, poverty and unemployment.
The Commission has also commended the work of a number of State officials, who have shown exceptional zeal, ability and devotion to duty in improving the situation in the KBK Districts.
The full text of the Proceedings dated 17 January 2003 is available on the Commission’s website (www.nhrc.nic.in); it also contains the opinion of the Commission on the Right to Food and Freedom from Hunger.