India: Administration must end malnutrition of Mawasi tribe
[Hunger Alert] UPDATE (India): The administration must conduct effective investigations and monitoring to eradicate malnutrition and hunger faced by the Mawasi tribe
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received a letter from the Indian government dated April 28, 2011 in response to the AHRC Hunger Alert Case (AHRC-HAC-009-2010) reported on November 9, 2010, regarding the Mawasi tribe children suffering from malnutrition and starvation in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh. Subsequent to the administration’s investigation, the State advisor to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court submitted a fact-finding report on the overall situation of Satna, including the village the AHRC reported on in April. After studying the reports, the AHRC found that the administration lacks an independent first-hand investigation methodology and a strong willingness to eradicate malnutrition and hunger. Though the administration took several steps to implement food security-related programs, it needs to take further active steps and constantly monitoring the activity in favor of tribes who have been deprived of their fundamental rights.
As mentioned in the previous appeal, the children of the Mawasi tribe have been suffering from malnutrition due to a lack of resources as well as the non-implementation of food related government schemes in Madhya Pradesh.
The previous appeal mentioned that despite several recommendations from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the district administration had not taken any substantial action to prevent child malnutrition and guarantee child health care in the reported villages. It also exposed the failure in implementing government programs and laws, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Forest Rights Act and the Public Food Distribution System (PDS).
In response to the AHRC's report, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) forwarded a report dated April 28, 2011. This report is comprised of two additional reports, one from the administration authority, Collector of Satna District (dated January 7, 2011) and the other by the Upper Secretary of Women and Child Development Department (dated January 24, 2011). Although the authorities have made some attempts towards eradicating child malnutrition and food insecurity, there remains a considerable gap between the investigation report and the current situation. The State advisor’s office on the right to food conducted a follow-up investigation in April 2011, and subsequently a local human rights group visited the village in July 2011.
There are several weaknesses that the AHRC would like to point out regarding the government’s investigation methodology. First, the investigation requires a common methodology and collaboration in identifying child malnutrition among all relevant government agencies. The medical officer sent by the administration took the children’s weight and Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) to measure their nutrition status. According to the MUAC measurements, two of the five children (Mandakini 125 and Pramod 118) were identified as suffering Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM). Yet, the report says only Pramod is MAM, while the report of the Women and Child Development Department identifies him as normal. Furthermore, the medical officer should not overlook Mandakini as MUAC 125 implies that the child is either MAM or at risk of acute malnutrition.
To identify the acute status of malnourished children it is important to adopt commonly known international standards and to take exact measurements. It is more important to ensure that sustainable resources for food are provided. Secondly, rather extremely poor conditions lacking basic resources shown in Mawasi community causes the lack of adequate nutrition to the children at any time regardless of the MUAC indicator. The government failed to ensure the right to land that is a sustainable resource of Mawasi community who has claimed it in accordance with the Forest (rights) Act 2006.
The investigation reports reflect the government’s inefficiency and lack of willingness in that two government agencies conducted separate investigations in the same month. For instance; it would have been better if one agency had conducted its investigation to follow up the first one. In addition, it seems that the investigation team collected information from the public servants without interacting with the affected villagers, and did not conduct any monitoring afterwards, implying a lack of willingness to root out food insecurity and ensure the rights of poor indigenous people.
On the same day that the AHRC first reported hunger and malnutrition in Satna, November 9, 2010, the government set up a mini Anganwadi Centre (AWC; child care center) for 48 children of the village. This is not in accordance with the Supreme Court order dated December 13, 2006 directing that if a village has more than 40 children, the administration should open a full-fledged AWC on demand. Villagers have indeed continuously been demanding a full-fledged AWC. The administration continues to run a mini AWC without discussing the needs with villagers or the Gram Sabha (elected body). This implies that it does not give priority to child malnutrition and hunger, for which the village based childcare centre plays a significant role. The international guidelines of the FAO also highlight how participation is a significant element to eradicate hunger and promote food security.
Thirdly, some elements mentioned in the administration report do not match the ground situation. The report says that the Gram Sabha secretary has taken away old job cards from the cardholders and issued new ones. Villagers said that the relevant officials visited the village and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Majhgawan Block handed over job cards to the secretary and village head (Sarpanch) one night before the investigation. However, it is found that some villagers who are entitled to get job cards including Ranjiyawan, Johari, Ramdas, Shivprasad, Rambadan, Batri, and others did not receive them. The report also says that 36 job card holders worked on three projects under the MGNREGS and the wages were deposited in the accounts. Specifically, 36 Mawasi households received INR 110,000 (USD 2,495) on November 14, 2010, the report says. However, 25 workers who work in Kapildhara well still did not get the wages from previous work. The total payment to be paid is INR 31,147 (USD 687).
According to the local human rights activists' field visit in July, no one has received a passbook although bank accounts were opened at the Sharda Gramen Bank. The report of the State Advisor submitted in April also points out that most of the workers in Satna district have not been provided with passbooks. In addition, the report discloses numerous complaints of fake withdrawals from the Sharda Grameen Bank. It is necessary to check how the administration could transfer the wages without distributing the passbooks to the villagers.
The July field visit exposes that the unfinished well construction has not been restarted and in contrast to what the administration report says, currently no work is going on in the village. Although the administration gave instructions to restart the work in January 2011, it has failed to monitor and ensure the work actually begins.
Fourthly, the AHRC also observes that the administration’s attitude and action is rather passive. The district administration acknowledged that 26 Mawasi families have been deprived of their right to land due to negligence and corruption of the chairperson of the Van Committee who failed to submit the application to the right authority saying that he did not remember to whom he had submitted. Twenty-six applicants had to resubmit the application with the help of local human rights group Adivasi Adhikar Manch, as the administration suggested. In this process, the administration has not provided any responsible assistance. Mawasi families previously submitted the application in accordance with the Forest Right Act, which the administration failed to process. As a duty bearer who failed to ensure the right to land, the administration should take more active steps to provide land for Mawasi families. The July field visit discovered that the village head had approved the previous applications submitted by the Mawasi families (as the application can be sent to the forest department only after the village head approves it), but was refusing to approve the resubmitted applications saying that the documents are not sufficient. The village head has been keeping seven applications.
Meanwhile the forest department has recently occupied 20 acres of forest agricultural land which the Mawasis have been cultivating for generations. The forest department planted small trees to make a boundary to prevent the villagers from using the forest. This violates the right to access to the land and natural resources of the tribe, which is the basic element to ensure food security.
Additionally, the separated families who do not have BPL ration cards under the PDS should get the cards as soon as possible according to the Supreme Court order dated Feb 14 2006, which says that “Provisions will be made to allow new names to be added and ineligible names deleted from the BPL List 2002 on a continuous basis.” The administration should not wait for the next BPL survey. Contrary to the administration report that two Mawasi families - Dukhiya Mawasi and Batari Ramsewak Mawasi -- hold Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards targeted for the poorest, no Mawasi has the AAY card, while Batari family does not have AAY card and Dukhiya does not live in the village. This questions whether the government officials conducted an on-the-ground investigation, or one based on paper work. In addition, BPL cardholders receive only 20 kilograms of rations per month, which is a violation of the Supreme Court order stating an entitlement of 35 kilograms per month. Some families including Kamlesh, Budhhulal, Rajaram, Bachchilal, Shyamlal, Ramdas, Lallu, and Narayan could not collect rations from the shop for the last two months.