Mumbai : The Bombay High Court on Tuesday asked the Maharashtra government to file an affidavit by November 20 informing what steps it had taken to prevent alleged death of children due to malnutrition in Melghat and other tribal areas of the State.
The direction was given by a bench headed by Justice S J Vajifdar, who was hearing a petition filed by two doctors from Amravati seeking contempt action against the State and its Chief Secretary for not acting on the orders of the High Court in taking steps to prevent deaths due to malnutrition.
Jugal Kishore Gilda, counsel for petitioners, said several orders had been passed by the High Court since 2006 asking the government to take steps. In one such matter, the State was directed to prevent death of tribals due to malnutrition and bring it to a zero level by 2011.
However, despite such directions, the State had not achieved the target although it claimed to have launched some welfare schemes to tackle malnutrition, the petition said.
The petition pointed out that in 2012-13, 475 children lost their lives due to malnutrition from Chikaldara and Dharni areas. Of these, 315 deaths were reported from Dharni.
At least 200 ‘still born’ cases have been reported from these areas, the petition, filed by Dr Rajendra Burma and Dr Ravindra Kolhe, said.
The court had passed various orders on the issue but they have been wilfully disobeyed by officers of the State, the petition alleged and sought contempt action against them.
The petition alleged that the posts of assistant medical officers in primary health centres at Mogarda Hiramumbai, Ektai and Dhakarmal were lying vacant since several months.
The posts of multipurpose health workers (male) have not been filled up in spite of pressing urgency and need, the petition submitted. Five such posts are lying vacant in two talukas of the State.
As regards the posts of assistant multipurpose health workers in both male and female categories, four such posts were lying vacant thereby depriving people from getting treatment in remote tribal areas, the petition further said.
Ferrying pregnant women who need help cannot be done because the posts of drivers for ambulances are lying vacant. Out of ten such posts, nine were currently lying vacant in Dharni and Chikaldara. Out of 47 sanctioned posts of attendants, only 19 had been filled up, the petition claimed.
The petition said that during the period April to July 2013, 46 children were found to be malnourished on a medium level while 261 were reported to be seriously malnourished. If urgent steps were not taken to tackle malnourishment, then some more deaths may occur due to this menace.
The petition said, as per the direction of the High Court, the Collectorate officers earlier used to hold meetings every fortnight for coordinating with various agencies for implementing welfare schemes to prevent death to malnutrition.
However, since last one year, none of the officers of the rank of additional collector and above have visited the area. Only in August this year, the Chief Secretary made a maiden visit, the petition said.
The petitioners also alleged that it had come to their notice that 2,704 quintals of food stuff from the public distribution system in Maharashtra was sold in open market in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.