Mumbai: Taking serious cognizance of the deaths of 740 tribal students in residential schools in 10 years, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) demanded an explanation on the issue from the Maharashtra government in Mumbai on Tuesday.
The issue came to the fore after the death of a 12-year-old tribal girl in Palghar district on October 7 due to fever and complications related to malnutrition.
Later, another 10 students of a school in the district were admitted to hospitals for malnutrition-related health problems, most of them belonging to very poor tribal families.
Noting that "the schools lack health services and basic amenities," the NHRC said as per norms the students should be screened at least twice a year but government agencies are not following it (the norms).
"The school authorities, as their lawful guardians, are responsible for their welfare, safety and health care needs. The negligence on the part of the Department of Tribal Development and the school authorities is a violation of Right to Life, Dignity and Equality of the students," the NHRC said in its notice to the state Chief Secretary.
Maharashtra has around 552 residential schools for tribal students run by the Tribal Development Department.
Several posts in these schools are lying vacant and budgetary provisions are not being utilised, as a result of which many students have died due to dengue, malaria, food poisoning, drowning, snake bites and suicides in the past.
Incidentally, mid-September, Maharashtra Governor C.V. Rao had directed three cabinet ministers -- Pankaja Munde, Vishnu Savra and Deepak Sawant -- to visit the affected tribal areas of Palghar and other parts of the state.
He had asked them to initiate urgent remedial measures to tackle the problems of malnutrition and other health issues in these tribal areas.
Later, Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Savra faced the ire of the tribals when he visited one of the worst-hit hamlets in Jawahar sub-district.
When the angry locals informed him that over 600 children have died and what has he done for them, Savra had retorted: "So what? The government is doing its work, implementing schemes."
Furious with his reply, the villagers asked him to 'get out' after which Savra said that if he was not required, he would not come there.