Despite a plethora of welfare schemes, 20 members of three primitive tribes of Jharkhand have died during the last month.
The government has attributed the deaths to food poisoning while social workers say the deaths occurred due to malnourishment.
In Chatra district alone, 17 members of two primitives tribes have died in two villages, officials say.
In Hindiyakala village, around 210 km from state capital Ranchi, eight members of the Birhor tribe died early in October while nine members of the Baiga tribe died.
Two members of the Birhor tribe died in Koderma district in the last one week while one death has been reported from Dumka district.
"In Hindiyakala, the Birhor tribals died due to hunger. They were not getting foodgrain from the public distribution system for a long time," said Balram, an advisor to a panel appointed by the Supreme Court to supervise the food security schemes in the state.
He also refuted the claim of government officials that the tribals died due to food poisoning.
The Jharkhand government last week constituted a three-member committee headed by Welfare Secretary U K Sangama to assess the situation in the three districts and probe the cause of the deaths.
"We will submit our report to the chief secretary on Friday," said Sangama.
Jharkhand has 30 tribes, of which nine have been declared as primitive tribes. Their population is just 0.80 per cent of the states' 26.90 million population. The state government runs 10 schemes for them, among others, to provide jobs to youth who complete their schooling, food and housing but despite this, the population of the primitive tribes is declining and hunger deaths are reported, officials privately admit.
"We plan the programmes and ensure funds, but the schemes have to be implemented by the district administration," a defensive Sangama said.
"We will ensure free foodgrain for the primitive tribes. All necessary steps will be taken to prevent malnutrition among them," was all that Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren said when asked about the deaths.