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The Bombay High Court on Monday pulled up the state government for non-implementation of its orders to eradicate malnutrition deaths and infant mortality. The court also observed that the issue of malnutrition is equally or more important than the farmers’ issues that the state was grappling with.
A division bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice A M Badar was hearing a bunch of PILs with respect to malnutrition deaths in Melghat region and other tribal areas. One of the petitioners, Poornima Upadhyay of NGO Khoj working in the tribal areas, informed the court that despite tall promises made by the state government on paper, the ground reality is grim.
“There are 10,000 people dying every year in tribal areas including children and pregnant women. Instead of providing nutritious food, the government is feeding people ready-to-eat food in packets, which children do not like. The condition of hospitals is pathetic, with no pediatrician in many of the hospitals. The situation is deteriorating,” Upadhyay said.
The court, after perusing previous orders of the HC as well as reports submitted by the state, expressed its displeasure over the state’s attitude in tackling the issue. Upadhyay said that between 2010 and 2017, the HC had passed over 30 orders asking the government to take various steps to eradicate malnutrition in tribal areas. The court orders included framing of a nutrition policy, appointment of doctors, setting up of clinics and hospitals, and new technologies to monitor health of mothers and newborns in tribal regions of the state.
“Several directions have been given by this court but no substantial progress has been made. The time has come where chief secretaries must be held responsible for non-implementation of orders passed by the court. We have been very patient but the state government is only paying lip service to the orders passed,” said Justice Kanade.
He added that there was no political will on the part of the state government and despite funds made available by the state and the Centre, there was no action. He said that collectors of the respective districts and chief secretaries would be held responsible if the directions were not complied with.
“This issue is equally or more important than the starvation of farmers and financial assistance given to them by way of loan waivers. The tribal areas are politically, economically and socially weak and they cannot be neglected,” added Justice Kanade. The court has directed the state government to implement all its orders before August 14. “If the orders are not implemented, we will pass appropriate action to hold the authorities responsible,” the court warned.
In the last hearing, Dr Abhay Bang, a social activist who had been working in Gadchiroli area, had suggested steps the government should adopt to address the issue. He had touched upon points including maternal health, medical care, mental health and empowerment of tribals, effective communication and coordination between various departments, etc, following which the state was asked to act upon the issue with an action plan for five years.