Send specialist doctors to Melghat; health secy to be responsible for further malnutrition deaths: Bombay HC to state govt

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.

The Bombay High Court on Monday asked the Maharashtra government to take immediate measures to send specialist doctors to the Melghat region and other tribal areas in the state to stop deaths of children due to malnutrition.

The HC warned the secretary of the state health department saying that he will be put on notice and asked him to be on guard in the event of any further deaths due to malnutrition reported in the next two weeks.

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.

Alarmed by escalating figures of children dying in the Melghat region, the High Court has been passing orders from time to time and had observed that co-ordinated action by different state departments were required to avoid any delay.

The court, in 2018, had directed for the constitution of a “core committee” to monitor issues faced by tribals and implementation of welfare schemes in the eleven sensitive tribal projects in the state.

Senior Advocate Jugal Kishore Gilda, for petitioner Burma submitted that situation has worsened in the Covid-19 pandemic period and if effective steps are not taken, 900 more children might lose their lives in near future in Melghat region.

He said that while the HC has been dealing with the issue since 1992-93 and various orders were passed in the matters, the children and expecting mothers from not only the Melghat region, but also other tribal areas from Nandurbar and Palghar were not getting sufficient medical aid as yet.

Petitioner Bandu Sane, who appeared in person, submitted that at least 73 children have died due to malnutrition in the last one year, with over 11,000 children being underweight and not much progress has been made to alleviate their suffering.

He said that no pediatricians or gynecologists are available in the Melghat region, and therefore specialised treatment to the needy and aggrieved is being denied. Sane added that though doctors with BAMS degrees were available, no MBBS doctors were present and regular visits of medical practitioners are not taking place.

The petitioner also sought audit of funds received from Centre towards the uplift of tribal areas and alleviation of problems faced by the residents.

Advocate Neha Bhide, appearing for the state government, said that while it was not considering the pleas as adversarial, it cannot be denied that even a single death due to malnutrition will be considered failure on part of the government. Therefore, continuous measures are being taken to address the issue.

The court told the state lawyer, “If your machinery is so well equipped, why 73 deaths of malnutrition took place and children are dying till date?  There isn’t a single gynecologist and pediatrician available in Chikhaldara region. From tomorrow we want the situation to be monitored by doctors.”

It added, “If we are informed by petitioners by the next hearing that there are further deaths owing to malnutrition, we will hold your (state) health secretary responsible. Tomorrow onwards, proper measures should be taken.”

The court directed that gynecologists, pediatricians and radiologists from civil or civic hospitals be deputed in tribal areas across the state, including Chikhaldara-Melghat region for regular visits. The HC said, “We are putting the health secretary on guard and notice. If we come across that by the next hearing more deaths have taken place, we will take stern action.”

The court directed the state government to file an affidavit in reply giving the current status of medical and other facilities made available in tribal areas and asked the petitioner to file an affidavit giving the latest update on deaths due to malnutrition.

It further directed the Centre to inform it on the total amount disbursed for the uplift of tribals under various schemes so far and how it is monitoring the situation on the same.

The HC will hear PILs next on September 6.

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