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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Maha: Plea by young lawyer prompts court to question state on lack of health infrastructure in remote tribal hamlet in Gadchiroli

It was only in June this year that the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench took cognizance of the plight of the tribal residents of the hamlet and issued notice to the state regarding "violation of fundamental rights" of the tribal residents.

Bodhi Ramteke, 23, says he was inspired by his parents to work for the rights of tribals. (Express photo)

Nearly 1,000 km from Mumbai, a small hamlet in the tribal-dominated Gadchiroli district, Vengnur, gets cut off from the rest of the world every year during monsoon, when the nearby Dina Dam overflows. Lack of medical care for months is among the many problems the residents face as they have no way to access healthcare when the dam overflows.

It was only in June this year that the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench took cognizance of the plight of the tribal residents of the hamlet and issued notice to the state regarding “violation of fundamental rights” of the tribal residents. The court also appointed an independent advocate to furnish information in response to complaints of unavailability of health infrastructure and unmanned boats in tribal Vengnur Gat gram panchayat, which constitutes four villages – Vengnur, Padkotola, Adangepalli, and Surgaon.

The court’s intervention came after a 23-year-old lawyer from the area, Bodhi Ramteke, wrote a petition to the court alleging that the state was violating the fundamental rights of local residents by not providing them basic infrastructure facilities.

Ramteke, who was born in Gadchiroli and spent his early formative years in the district, says he was inspired by his parents to work for the rights of tribals. He studied law and subsequently set up an NGO, PATH Foundation (People’s Action Towards Humanity), a collective of socially conscious young lawyers from different parts of Maharashtra. PATH is working with PVTG (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) and other tribal groups in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts.

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During their work in the region, Ramteke and his associates found that local residents were unable to get access to state health services, with those in need having to use private boats or rafts to avail health services in emergency situations.

“Ten years ago, two boats were provided by the district collector, which have only been repaired twice since then. Now, the condition of the boats is too bad and they are not in a position to be used any more,” said Ramteke.

Through the response to a Right to Information application, Ramteke found that nearly 57% posts in the district health department were vacant. Out of 75 posts of medical officers, 43 were vacant. He then collected signatures of over 40 villagers and filed a Letter Petition, stating that they were under poor economic background, before the Nagpur High Court.

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Later, the court admitted it as a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL). After hearing his petition, the Nagpur High Court issued notice to the state government regarding “violation of fundamental rights” of the tribes.

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The court also appointed advocate Renuka Sirpurkar as the amicus curiae to look into the claims made in the PIL. The hearing of the petition is on August 8.

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“For years, I have been seeing the villagers suffer. We are common people and no one listens to us. Now, with the help of law, I hope the villagers will get justice… and get pending healthcare centres and a bridge,” said Ramteke.

Gadchiroli Collector Sanjay Meena said after receiving the notice from the court, the district administration has already supplied a new boat to the village for ferrying local residents. It has also taken steps for the construction of a bridge that will connect the villages to the main road to increase accessibility to primary health centres.

“Our engineer from the PWD went to the spot for an investigation on Monday. The construction of the bridge will be expensive, so we have to procure an NOC and seek funds from the state government. We will submit details of all the work we have done in an affidavit to the court,” he told The Indian Express.

First published on: 05-08-2022 at 02:20:37 am
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