NEW DELHI: For a government that flaunts the “global city” tag, here is some disturbing news. A recent RTI reply from four Delhi Police districts – out of a total of 11 – received by RTI activist Nayaar Alam has revealed that the city witnessed 737 deaths in the past 14 years either due to hunger or poverty. All deaths were due to hunger or suicides due to hunger and poverty. That on an average is one death every week.
However, observers and people in the field say the real number is quite high. Though the other seven districts have replied that no one in their area had died due to hunger or poverty, activists say the reason is that these deaths were never probed seriously. “Autopsies of the abandoned and homeless are completed in a routine fashion. The investigating officers hardly ever try to find their relatives and attempt to understand the reason behind the death,” said an NGO worker.
Senior government officials, on the other hand, questioned the “method” Delhi Police had adopted to establish the exact reason behind these deaths.
One of them pointed out that no postmortem report cites poverty as a reason for death and the word `malnutrition’ does not necessarily mean that death was due to hunger.
Both, however, agreed that the RTI reply stating that 689 of such deaths took place in one district – West – makes it necessary to exercise caution.
As the debate rages on, here are the bare facts: In at least two years i.e 2002 and 2005, seventy-six and 72 people, respectively, lost their lives. While in 2002, twenty-one died/committed suicide due to hunger, another 55 died/committed suicide due to poverty. The corresponding figures for the year 2005 are 18 and 56, respectively.
According to Alam, a total of 177 people in these 14 years have died due to hunger alone, according to Delhi Police. Though 2002 was the worst in that respect – 21 died that year – in 2010, eighteen and in 2011 fifteen people died. These revelations come at a time when the data of Delhi government states that the per capita annual income in the national capital is Rs 1,76,000.
“These deaths were never brought to public notice, nor are all the deaths accounted for. For hunger deaths to happen, there has to be an acute lack of nutrition which does not support staying out in the open in extreme heat or cold. We need several more shelters to protect these people. Delhi has been able to tackle the problem by setting up shelter homes but more needs to be done,” said Mohammad Tariq, assistant professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who also heads its urban poverty programme.