The Bombay High Court on Monday said welfare schemes for the tribal population are only on paper and sought to know from the Maharashtra government what steps it has taken to prevent deaths of children due to malnutrition in the tribal regions.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni said the welfare schemes are of no use if children are still dying of malnutrition in the state's Melghat region.
The petitioners, who are activists working in that area, informed the court that from August to September this year, 40 children have died and that there had been 24 cases of stillbirth due to malnutrition and lack of doctors in the area.
“If there have been so many deaths, then what is the utility of all these schemes? These are just paper schemes. We want to know why these deaths are occurring and what steps are being taken by the state government,” the court said.
The High Court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed in 2007, highlighting the high numbers of deaths of children, pregnant women and lactating mothers in the Melghat region due to malnutrition.
The plea also raised concerns over the lack of gynaecologists, paediatricians and radiologists in public health centres of the region.
Maharashtra's Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that medical officers have been appointed at these centres.
However, while perusing the affidavits filed by the Maharashtra government, the court noted that regions like Gadchiroli and Gondia in the state still have vacancies of the posts of medical officers in public health centres.
“In urban places like Pune and Nagpur, the public health centres have 100% medical practitioners, but in regions like Gondia and Gadchiroli, more than 50% of the posts are lying vacant,” the court said.
To this, Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said doctors are appointed, but they do not report to duty as they do not wish to work in these regions.
The court, however, said this cannot be accepted and strict action should be taken against such doctors.
“We agree these are troublesome areas… may be the state could offer some incentives. It is for the state government to ensure that the tribal belt of the state's population has medical officers,” the court said.
The High Court also suggested that dieticians be to be appointed in such areas.
The bench posted the matter for further hearing on September 20 and said the state ought to take some immediate steps to address the issue.
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