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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Probe into deaths by starvation
Women in parched field in Rajasthan
This is the fourth year the monsoon has failed Rajasthan

The authorities in the western Indian state of Rajasthan have ordered an inquiry into the deaths of 12 people in the eastern district of Baran due to starvation.

Reports suggest the victims who were mostly children died due to hunger in the past two weeks in the Baran district, 400 Km from state capital Jaipur.

Non-governmental organisations and social workers from the state of Rajasthan say the victims belonged to the Saharia tribal community.

The state of Rajasthan continues to struggle with the effects of one of the most severe droughts the state has ever suffered.

Women in search of water in Rajasthan
Pastoral lands have turned into deserts

In an interview with the BBC, Rajasthan's Relief Secretary Mr Ramlubhaya said a team of doctors were sent to the area to ascertain the exact cause for the deaths.

Denial

The secretary, however, denied reports suggesting the deaths were a result of starvation and said the victims died due to illness.

"The government has taken all the necessary steps to help the tribal people in the area in view of severe drought conditions," he said.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has asked all village Councils headquarters to keep a stock of relief grain, to be distributed in case of acute shortages.

The State Human Right Commission (SHRC) has demanded an investigation from the district administration within the next two days.

Justice Sagir Ahmed, the SHRC chairman said they were contemplating sending its own investigative team to review the situation.

Prolonged malnutrition

A spokesperson for an NGO, Kavita Srivastava said 18 people had died in the area because of hunger and prolonged malnutrition, brought about by the drought.

"The government has failed to provide relief to the affected community," she said.

She added: "The tribal people are eating grass to quell hunger and it sometimes proves fatal."

The Saharias are indigenous to Rajasthan and live in areas bordering Madhya Pradesh.

They are entirely dependant on the forest for their livelihood.

Rajasthan has been affected by severe drought and the state government has declared all the 40,000 villages across the 32 districts as drought-stricken.

According to the state government, at least 800,000 people are employed at state-provided relief projects which began in mid-August.

See also:

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