The issue of continuing malnutrition deaths in Sheopur district, being highlighted by HT, found prominent mention in the state cabinet meeting on Monday with deep concern being expressed on the situation.
The chief minister, while expressing concern, directed the women and child development (WCD) minister Ranjana Baghel to visit the affected areas to take stock of the situation, sources said. He also asked all other ministers to pay attention to this aspect in their respective districts and take them up during the district level meetings.
HT has done a series of reports on the deaths of children in Sheopur and Shivpuri districts during the last three weeks. The death toll in Sheopur has reached 25, while another four kids have died in Shivpuri district. Many of these children had a record of being malnourished, though in most cases the immediate cause of death was fever and diarrhoea.
Meanwhile, as the WCD minister remains mum over the issue of children's deaths, some NGOs have raised question over the recent decision to promote her as the cabinet minister. There is a feeling that the minister is not able to provide the political leadership required to push the state's agenda of focusing on protection of children and eradication of malnutrition.
After HT reports, the department of WCD and district administration took remedial actions, however there was no word from the minister about the entire issue. HT's repeated attempts to contact her also failed.
Uma Chaturvedi of NGO Sahayog that initially brought the issue to light said the death of malnourished children during late monsoon weeks is a recurring process in Sheopur district. She said that every year children perish here due to different diseases and the government hardly does anything to prevent it.
"As for the minister, I have never seen her visiting the tribal areas of Gwalior-Chambal region even when deaths are reported and then she gets promoted to cabinet rank. It is indeed surprising," Chaturvedi said.
State advisor to Supreme Court commissioners in Right to Food case Sachin Jain said the case-based approached adopted by the government would never help in eradicating malnutrition. "We have always been pushing for community-based approach rather than institution-based approach but in vain," Jain said.
He added that while the state government speaks of malnutrition as a focus area, there is no political leadership to ensure success of Atal Child Health and Nutrition Mission. "If the state government was really serious, the department would have had a vibrant political leader at the helm. Politically, the department still looks like being treated as non-priority," Jain added.
Chief secretary might visit too: Sources said that the chief secretary R Parasuram might also visit malnutrition hit Sheopur district later this month. The senior official is likely to take stock of the administrative measures being taken to control the situation.