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ANOTHER DEATH of a tribal child from a tribal ashram school at Palghar has led to another probe and yet another appointment of a committee in the tribal department of the state government. With such incidents on the rise, Pune-based litigant Ravindra Talpe, who filed a public interest litigation recently, has questioned the state government’s inability to curb such deaths, especially since several committees have been appointed one after the other to address the matter and an affidavit has been put forth by the Maharashtra government in the High Court stating that there have been over 700 deaths in these tribal schools.
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With the next hearing of the PIL in November, the litigant has said that such appointments are an eyewash as nobody wants to address the real issue and take action. “Year after year, there are committees and appointments, and there are deaths. Why can’t concrete action be taken?” he said. According to the government, as many as 740 students from residential schools in tribal areas have died due to various health issues over the past 10 years. The government has formed a committee to study the issue and suggest measures and address the situation, although the plight of these schools remain the same.
The PIL filed by Talpe has alleged that there has been 793 deaths due to snake bites, scorpion bites, fever and other minor illnesses, all this mainly due to ‘the negligence of staff’ who did not ensure proper treatment on time. There are 29 project offices in the state and nearly 1,100 ashram shalas, of which, 547 are directly under the government and another 552 are government-aided private schools. Together, they have over four lakh students.
However, senior officials from the tribal department, refusing to comment on the PIL, have stated that they would soon bring out the report for the state as the internal probe and assessment has been done. Activists who work in the tribal areas, meanwhile, have maintained that the deaths have occurred due to lack of health services and basic amenities. “Although there are nearly 550 government-run residential schools, only some get drinking water from pipelines and most don’t have toilets,” said activists, who have been quoted in the PIL.While a study has been already assigned by the earlier government to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, yet another study has been assigned to the same institute to study the status of tribal children in the state. Activists working in the area are upset that despite the reports being commissioned, there is no action being taken.
Meanwhile, State Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Savara had run into trouble a couple of weeks ago over his comment ‘let it be’ while allegedly responding to comments on the deaths. However, when the Chief Minister asked for a clarification, he said, it was to stop the activists who were not lending an ear to his statement.