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Malnutrition in Melghat: Bombay HC orders Maharashtra govt to provide alternate livelihood, restart hot cooked food for children and pregnant women

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand Karnik was hearing a bunch of petitions highlighting the issue of continuous deaths of children, pregnant and lactating mothers in the tribal region owing to malnutrition.

Narsi Benwal | Updated on: Thursday, January 27, 2022, 04:30 PM IST

Malnutrition in Melghat: Bombay HC orders Maharashtra govt to provide alternate livelihood, restart hot cooked food for children and pregnant women | File Photo
Malnutrition in Melghat: Bombay HC orders Maharashtra govt to provide alternate livelihood, restart hot cooked food for children and pregnant women | File Photo
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The Bombay High Court on Thursday ordered the Maharashtra government to forthwith start providing cooked nutritious food to the children, pregnant and lactating mothers in Melghat, the tribal region in the state, where there have been thousands of deaths due to malnutrition. The HC even suggested the state look out for some alternative works for these tribal people in Melghat so that they do not migrate outside the region, which results in them getting deprived of government-run schemes.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Makarand Karnik was hearing a bunch of petitions highlighting the issue of continuous deaths of children, pregnant and lactating mothers in the tribal region owing to malnutrition.

Pursuant to an earlier order, advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted a "short term plan" to the bench spelling out what the state would do to enhance the situation in the region.

"Till now, immediate confirmation of pregnancy by tests wasn't happening and the women learnt it later after probably three months and thus got delayed attention. So, we have decided to provide Urine Pregnancy Test (UPT) kits to ASHA workers, who will maintain stock received and used," Kumbhakoni submitted.

The AG further said that these ASHA workers will also maintain records of the monthly menstrual cycles of women in the region. "So far we haven't been proactive in finding out who is pregnant and who isn't. Now proactive treatment and attention would be given to a pregnant women right from her initial months," he added.

Notably, senior IPS officer Dr Chhering Dorje had on the last hearing submitted a detailed report that he prepared after visiting the region. He had in his report listed various reasons for the higher death rate in the region one of which was the fact that these people migrated outside Melghat after the monsoon. This, Dorie stated was a major cause of them getting deprived of the benefits of the various schemes.

Highlighting this aspect, AG Kumbhakoni said, "As per the report, most of the tribals migrate to other places outside Melghat, after the rainy season. Once they migrate and go to some other districts they don't get the needed nutrition and most of them die. In fact, the data shows that outside Melghat deaths have been more in number than the deaths within the region."

"Thus, we have decided to track the migrant beneficiaries with the help of a software called Maha Migrant Tracking System (MTS)" the AG emphasised, adding, "We will track such beneficiaries every 15 days."

Further, AG said that as recommended by Dr Dorje providing a permanent source of livelihood for these people within Melghat won't be possible for the state at present. "But that would be taken care of in a long term plan," he said.

At this, CJ Datta questioned, "Can't they be provided work under the MNREGA scheme?"

"They can be but the quantum of money they get under MNREGA is less than what they get on migration," AG responded.

"Mr AG, if you (state) want to put an end to this migration then you will have to find out some alternate sources of employment for these people," the chief justice replied.

Further, AG pointed out that the state would now hold counselling sessions for pregnant women once or twice a month against their habit of chewing tobacco, which affects their overall health.

Meanwhile, Justice Karnik on the bench sought to know from the AG as to why the state stopped the provision of hot cooked food for children of this region. "Why was it stopped suddenly?" Justice Karnik asked.

At this, AG cited pandemic as a reason, saying, "We have thus started providing them ration. Another reason is, if cooked food is given then the male members eat it entirely thus to avoid this, the ration is being given."

"Mr AG, ensure that hot cooked food is restarted in these areas. You cannot give such reasons," Justice Karnik said.

Further, the bench was informed by Bandu Sane, one of the petitioners that there has been some respite in the matter as the number of deaths of children have lowered a bit after the Court's intervention.

The judges accordingly adjourned the matter till the last week of February with a directive to the state to come up with its long term plans within a period of two months.

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Published on: Thursday, January 27, 2022, 04:30 PM IST