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  Jharkhand Government seeks Church's help in fighting famine

RANCHI, AUGUST 31 (UCAN) -- The government of Jharkhand has sought the Catholic Church's help to distribute food relief to people reeling from drought in the state.

T.P. Sinha, advisor to Jharkhand Governor K. Sankarnarayanan, met Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi on August 30 to make a formal request for assistance.

The government on August 2 declared the entire state drought-affected. Farmers in the state could sow only 20 percent of rice paddy this year because of lack of water, local media reported.

People in a drought-hit area are eligible for government aid, free grain, interest-free loans and other assistance.

The government has decided to distribute grain to families living below the poverty line and set up grain storage centers. It has also decided to allow women living below the poverty line and self-help groups to run 12,500 new shops to distribute the grain and earn an income.

The government said the administration had approved 111.9 million rupees (US$2.38 million) for the project.

Sinha, who met the cardinal at the prelate's residence, declined to talk to the media but Cardinal Toppo later told UCA News the government wants to use the Church's vast infrastructure and network in the state.

"We are fully devoted in serving the poor. We are only too willing to extend our fullest cooperation to the state," Cardinal Toppo said.

The drought has resulted in famine in many areas and has affected even those living above the poverty line.

As drought relief is meant only for the very poor, there have been reports of attacks on grain depots and looting in some areas.

"The entire state is reeling under drought conditions and we would collaborate with the government to ensure proper distribution of food grains," Cardinal Toppo said.

The prelate says the Church would first chalk out "an effective and transparent system" and implement it in collaboration with the government.

The state has eight Catholic dioceses and allied organizations engaged in serving the poor. "All our dioceses can be harnessed for this noble job," the cardinal said. He added that he would send out an urgent message and organize a meeting of directors of diocesan social development societies.

The Church would then finalize the plan after discussing it with the governor adviser.

Father Jaiman Xalxo, director of Ranchi archdiocese's Catholic Charities, says the government move has excited Church workers. "We are very excited to take up this most challenging work," he said.

He said the Church people plan to work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the social action wing of the American bishops' conference, which is present in the state. "We have been working together with CRS for a long time. It has much experience in the field of relief work," he said.

The priest also said the Church would take up the job as soon as the government hands it over officially.
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