Updated: September 13, 2021 10:12:16 pm
The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the state government to take immediate measures in the Melghat region and other tribal areas in the state to stop deaths of children due to malnutrition, after it was informed that while the state has assigned specialist doctors to the sensitive areas, they have refused to take up assignments, as a result of which proper medical aid is not available to tribal belts.
The court questioned the state said that the issue should be on ‘priority’ for the state government as the petitioner told the bench that the situation has worsened in the last month amid Covid-19 as over 40 deaths of children due to malnutrition took place in the region, along with 24 stillbirths despite the court’s order to ensure proper health facilities in areas dominated by tribal population.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a bunch of PILs on malnutrition among children in the Melghat region, including those filed by Dr Rajendra Burma and activist Bandu Sampatrao Sane alleging that not much progress has been made to alleviate the suffering of the tribal people.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni for the state government submitted that due to special measures taken by it, the infant mortality rate has come down over the years.
However, Senior Advocate Jugal Kishore Gilda, for petitioner Burma submitted that there are discrepancies between the data of the state government and the ‘ground reality’. He claimed that for the past two years, especially during the pandemic, the officials have reported deaths under diarrhoea and pneumonia, while they were largely caused due to malnutrition.
Gilda added that 45 tribal villages are still inaccessible and are deprived of medical and other facilities. He also said that while the Central government launched ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ in 2017, the state government has utilised less than 30 percent for the total funds of nearly Rs 110 crore allotted for tribal region. The petitioner sought details of audit of funds received by state from centre under various schemes.
The bench, alarmed by escalating figures of children dying in the Melghat region, questioned, “What is the utility of all those schemes and measures? Aren’t those only on paper? Were they helpful for humankind and don’t we have value for human life?”
The court then noted that while positions of civil medical officers in urban areas, including Pune, Nagpur and other cities were almost filled up, in comparison, Gondia and Gadchiroli districts have half of the key medical posts vacant.
Kumbhakoni responded that while appointments were made, most of those doctors have not reported to duty yet.
The bench said, “This is a stark position for tribal districts. You can take action against them (doctors) or give them incentives. If you have medical officers in other districts, why don’t you transfer them to tribal dominant regions? give us a plan for the entire one month (appointments). It is for you to ensure tribal-dominated areas have proper health facilities.”
The HC went on to remark, “There is no debate that deaths are taking place. There are 40 deaths and 24 stillbirths in one month? Isn’t it disheartening? Your (state) focus should be on controlling the deaths of children. This PIL should have the topmost priority. You have to understand their (petitioners) sentiments.”
The court also suggested that apart from specialist doctors, qualified dieticians or nutritionists should be appointed to decide appropriate diet for the children who are prone to malnutrition. It also asked the state government to appoint field workers or volunteers to find out the requirements of every family in the tribal region to prevent further deaths of children.
Seeking responses from the authorities, the bench posted further hearing in the matter to September 20.
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