The Maharashtra government on Monday told the Bombay High Court that its officials are finding it difficult to bring in the tribal community to the mainstream in terms of health sector, given the fact that the community, doesn't wants to give up it's lifestyle and traditions. The "orthodox lifestyle" of the tribals, the state said, is one of the reasons for the numerous deaths of children, pregnant and lactating mothers in Melghat, a prime tribal belt in the state.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, however, asked the state to focus on controlling the high deaths in these regions and then gradually work towards bringing the community in the mainstream, without disturbing their lifestyle.
The bench was hearing a decade old PIL filed by activist Rajendra Burma, highlighting the large number of deaths of children, pregnant, lactating mothers in Melghat region of Maharashtra due to malnutrition.
On Monday, when the matter was called out, Burma told the bench that since the previous hearing (September 13), there gave been seven deaths in Chikhaldhara and Dharni areas.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni for the state submitted an affidavit stating that meetings have been conducted to appoint officials to implement all the schemes and policies at the ground level.
"We have mentioned names of officials in the chart, who will implement various policies for betterment of the tribal communities. This is being done to set accountability now," Kumbhakoni said.
The advocate general further informed the judges that recently the state appointed around 1,500 doctors under a major recruitment drive.
"Why can't you give initial posting to these 1,500 doctors in these areas?" Chief Justice Datta sought to know, to which AG said he would take instructions on this.
During the hearing, the AG further said that the state doesn't wants to justify any of the deaths. "In fact, no one can justify any single death, less a child's death that too due to malnutrition," he said.
Further, the AG pointed out that the state officials are finding it difficult to bring the tribals in mainstream.
"State cannot take steps to bring them in mainstream by obliterating them from their lifestyle. Tribals are very orthodox people and they won't change their lifestyle or tradition," the AG said, adding, "These people are very thin by their nature and infact there is no person in the community, who is fat."
This, the advocate general said has been one of the reasons for the malnutrition in the community.
"There are early marriages in the community wherein girls at a very young age are married. These girls due to early marriages get pregnant and then give birth to four to five children," Kumbhakoni submitted, adding, "This affects their body and then the obvious impact on the child as well as the mother."
Kumbhakoni further highlighted another reason for the malnutrition among the community members, which he said was the fact that these people do not visit a doctor.
"Another issue is, as soon as someone falls ill in this community, they go to a Tantrik and not a Doctor. They believe that the Tantriks can cure all their issues including health issues," AG said. He further pointed out that the state has come up with a scheme wherein it is paying Rs 200 to such Tantriks, on every patient from the community, they bring to the hospital.
"Problem is that officials want the Tribals not to leave their culture, tradition, lifestyle but also bring them in the mainstream. We want to educate them on health and other aspects without disturbing their traditions," the AG added further.
Meanwhile, activist Burma told the judges that the submissions made by the AG were similar to the ones made in 1993, when a comprehensive order was passed by the HC.
"The problem is schemes aren't reaching on the field despite CM, Ministers, Judges etc visiting these areas. From 1993 till today more than 11,000 children have died. The state must review the existing schemes," Burma submitted.
Next to make submissions was senior advocate Jugalkishore Gilda, who urged the bench to order audit of all the schemes as despite these schemes, children and pregnant women continue to die since last 28 years.
Having heard all of them, the chief justice said, "Mr AG, you need to first focus on deaths. You need to stop all these deaths and once the deaths stop, you need to bring them in mainstream in regards to health."
"They cannot be left to go to the Tantriks for curing themselves. This will be gradual but it has to be done," the CJ added, while adjourning the matter for further hearing after 15 days.
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