Voicing concern over death of 17,000 persons due to malnutrition in tribal areas of Maharashtra in the last one year, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the state government to take immediate steps to tackle it and submit details of central grants received for tribal welfare. A division bench of Justices V M Kanade and Swapna Joshi was hearing a bunch of PILs regarding malnutrition among children in Melghat region of Vidarbha and other tribal areas in Maharashtra.
One of the petitioners showed the court a reply received through the Right to Information (RTI) Act which said over 17,000 persons, including women and children, had died due to malnutrition in the state in the last one year. The court was also informed that 283 persons had died in Melghat region during 2015-16 and additional 83 from January 2016 to July 2016.
“This is a very serious matter that so many people have died due to malnutrition in the state. We direct the government to take immediate steps to tackle the menace”, said the judges. The bench also asked the state to improve the working conditions of the doctors in tribal areas.
The Maharashtra government today submitted to the High Court a report of the core committee formed to tackle the menace of malnutrition in tribal areas. The government also informed the high court that it did not have enough gynaecologists, general practitioners and other doctors in tribal areas to improve the health condition of people particularly women and children.
However, it had taken measures to improve the health conditions of the people in tribal areas because of which the number of deaths due to malnutrition had come down, said the government pleader. The bench sought to know how much grant was received by the state government from the Centre for development of tribal areas and asked the administration to file a reply by October 14 on this issue.
A report by the state Women and Child Development department filed earlier showed that in Melghat tribal area in Amravati district, 500 children on an average die every year, against its population of three lakh. In 2013-14, the number of child deaths rose to 600 and in 2014-15 another 426 children died in just two blocks of Melghat, the report said.
The high court had noted that in spite of directives given by it earlier, there was no significant decline in the child and maternal deaths in these areas as these directions have not been complied with. “Several reports have been submitted by UNICEF and other NGOs working in tribal areas. The child deaths is on account of malnutrition. We have further been told that pediatricians have not been posted in these areas, further aggravating the problem,” observed Justice Kanade during the hearing in July 2016.
The high court has directed the state government to inform whether any action has been taken on these reports relating to the situation in Melghat and whether any qualified pediatrician has been appointed or is working in that area and if food and nutrients are being provided to pregnant women and newborn children. The court also asked whether in other areas like Nashik, Thane, Nandurbar and Yavatmal, medical facilities are provided to these children and whether any doctor was available for their treatment.
Last year, the high court had convened a special hearing on the issue wherein it was highlighted that doctors and specialists are not always available at primary health centres and government hospitals in tribal areas. The Maharashtra government was asked to provide reservations for admissions to post graduate medical courses and other health courses to doctors who render services in such tribal areas and also consider granting reservations of seats in MBBS course in favour of students who study in schools in hilly tribal areas. The matter has been posted for further hearing on October 14.