Rattled by the unrest among tribal activists over child malnutrition deaths, the Maharashtra government has invoked Section 144, which restricts the assembly of five or more people, in parts of Palghar near Mumbai ahead of Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde’s visit to the district on Wednesday.
According to orders issued by Palghar Collector Abhijeet Bangar, the prohibitory orders will be in place for Munde’s visit to Khoj and Kalambwadi villages in Palghar’s Mokhada taluka Tuesday. The district administration has defended that move saying the measure was being taken in light of the protests witnessed during a previous visit by Tribal Development Minister and Palghar’s Guardian Minister Vishnu Savara, who had to face the fury of villagers and tribal activists.
The Opposition, however, used the opportunity to target the government. While the recent deaths of two tribal children — Sagar Wagh and the Ishwar Savara — in these villages is the immediate trigger for the unrest, villagers had complained during Savara’s visit that the region had witnessed 600 deaths since January 2015.
“The women and child development minister would be expected to comfort the families of the victims, and hear grievances of the locals. Instead, we see prohibitory orders being clamped. This shows the government’s insensitivity,” said Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan. Chavan also demanded an urgent upgrade in infrastructure, social amenities, and nutritional programmes in tribal belts to overcome malnourishment. In preparation for her visit, Munde had convened an official meeting Tuesday.
Earlier, Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya had told reporters Monday that the government was formulating a revised policy to bring down infant mortality and malnourishment. “The public health and the WCD departments are collectively working on this policy,” Kshatriya had said, adding, “The government will also seek assistance from civil society groups and NGOs for drawing up an action plan.”