Taking note of the death of twins in neighbouring Palghar district due to non-availability of doctors, the Bombay High Court expressed concern that the deaths in Maharashtra’s tribal areas were not coming down.
“We are really concerned about why the deaths are not coming down,” said Chief Justice Dipankar Datta, adding that they read a report in the newspaper about a woman losing her twins on way to a hospital for delivery.
CJ Datta said, “We read a report on how a tribal woman in Palghar lost her twins because there was no access to the hospital…”
Twenty-six year old Vandana Budhar went into preterm labour at her home in Mokhada hamlet, some 160 km from Mumbai. She could not make it to the hospital and delivered still born twins. Subsequently, while it was raining heavily, she was taken downhill in a cloth palanquin to the main road and from there in an ambulance to the primary health centre.
A division bench of CJ Datta and Justice M S Karnik was hearing a batch of public interest litigations (PILs) highlighting the issue of malnutrition and related deaths in Melghat and adjoining tribal areas.
During the hearing on Wednesday, it was pointed out to the court that in 2006, the HC had issued various directions for tackling the malnutrition problem among the children in the state. The court questioned the State government as to what it had done in the last 16 years to implement the orders.
“… it is 16 years (since the passing of orders), What is the development?” questioned CJ Datta.
Advocate for one of the petitioners, J Gilda informed the court that this year from March till August 15, over 80 children have died due to malnutrition in Melghat and Dharni.
He pointed out that several children have taken ill due to non-potable water from the well. He said water supply to Koylari and Pachgadi villages were disrupted because of the non-payment of arrears by the village panchayat.
Gilda said the non-availability of doctors is a persistent problem as 50 per cent of doctors posted on deputation are not reporting on duty. Doctors, who report to the duty, do not stay for more than 10 days as they are not provided basic facilities like quarters or proper remuneration.
More than 409 children are seriously malnourished and of these 100 are critical and are required to be shifted to rural hospitals, added Gilda.
Justice Karnik said it was a serious issue. “Whatever you are saying is something serious. You place it on record. We’ll ask the State to look into it,” said Justice Karnik.
CJ Datta questioned the government pleader on these doctors. “Who are those doctors? If they are not reporting on duty, the government can be directed to initiate an inquiry. Government cannot go on a roving inquiry,” said CJ Datta.
Additional government pleader PP Kakade told the court that the government will be issuing show-cause notices to the doctors who refuse to join duty in tribal areas. If they fail to respond to the notice, the government would remove them from service.
Bandya Sane, an activist from Melghat, said that there were 43 stillbirths and that there was no coordination among different government departments.
When advocate Uday Warunjikar said that 15 years ago a sitting judge visited the entire area to meet the officers to ensure that there was ground-level coordination, CJ Datta said the district legal services arranged a workshop on September 24.
The court has asked the persons concerned to inform by the next date of hearing the specific areas in which the court needs to pass orders. The HC has kept the PILs for hearing on September 12.