Observing that the rise in number of children dying because of malnutrition-related illnesses in Palghar and other tribal areas of the state was “shocking” and reflected the “complete apathy” of the state government, the Bombay high court on Wednesday directed the state to submit details of its own budgetary allocation and of the annual fund received from the Centre towards health and infrastructure expenditure in such areas.
A bench led by justice V M Kanade went on to say that such deaths were a result of “criminal negligence” on the part of the state government.
It said that since 2010, the high court had passed several orders about arranging for health facilities, including doctors and medical staff, for those living in tribal and rural parts of Maharashtra. But the state had “clearly failed” to take any effective steps.
The bench has now also directed the state government to submit details of the steps taken so far in compliance of the court’s previous orders.
The directions came while the bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation, highlighting the increasing instances of deaths owing to malnutrition and unreachable state-sponsored welfare schemes in the Melghat region in the state.
On Wednesday, the petitioners brought to the court’s notice the recent incidents of such deaths in Palghar and other areas across the state. The petitioners also informed the court that as per the state’s own records, 18,000 people, including several children in the state, had died of malnutrition-related illnesses.
The petitioners also said that despite the escalating figures, Melghat and its neighbouring areas had no doctors and trained medical staff.
The state meanwhile, said while it constantly advertises vacancies for doctors, especially, gynaecologists and paediatricians, for health centres in tribal areas, “nobody wants to go to these areas due to the living conditions.”
At this, the court reminded the state it was the government’s “duty to improve the living conditions” of such areas.
“Then make the living conditions there better. Isn’t that your work? Give incentives to doctors and medical staff so that they go to these areas. And what action do you take against those who refuse to report to work in these areas despite being deputed there by the state?” it said.