New Delhi - Three sisters aged between 2 and 8 have died in the Indian capital due to severe malnutrition, police confirmed Thursday.
Two autopsies had been carried out by doctors at different hospitals, and both showed the cause of death of the three young girls two days ago to be malnutrition and starvation, police told dpa.
The Delhi government has ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident, said Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, adding: "This is an incident that makes us hang our heads in shame."
The bodies of the three sisters, aged 8, 4 and 2, were brought to a hospital in eastern Delhi on Tuesday by their mother.
"The autopsy report suggests the children died due to health complications related to malnourishment and starvation," said Pankaj Kumar Singh, a deputy police commissioner.
Singh said that were no injury marks on the children's bodies and the police did not suspect any foul play.
The children had moved into a slum in eastern Delhi's Mandawali area on Saturday with their parents after the family was forced to leave their earlier residence as they could not pay the rent, police said, quoting neighbours.
The father was a rickshaw driver whose rickshaw had reportedly been stolen a few days ago, leaving him unemployed, police said.
"The father had gone for work before the incident and has not returned since. The mother is mentally unstable," Sisodia said.
"The post-mortem indicates the children died 12-18 hours before they were brought to the hospital. ... The post-mortem showed no trace of food in their stomachs ... they had likely not eaten for seven to eight days," said Amita Saxena, medical superintendent at the Lal Bahadur Shashtri Hospital.
India has one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world, with 38.4 per cent children under 5 years old showing stunted growth.
India has a public distribution system (PDS) through which essential foodgrains are distributed to families with low incomes at minimal prices, but the system often does not work and is mired in corruption.
In 2017, an 11-year-old girl died of starvation in the eastern state of Jharkhand, with her family claiming that they had not received PDS rations for six months.
Reacting to the deaths in Delhi, a spokeswoman for the Aam Admi Party (Common Man's Party), which runs the government in the state, said they showed "our collective failure."
"We should be able to ensure basic food for every person in this city, this state, this country ... this is a failure of our systems," Richa Pandey Mishra said.
The government has announced immediate assistance for the family. "All hospital treatment will be provided to the mother," Sisodia said. Police are searching for the father, Sisodia said.