A day after Hindustan Times reported that 16 children under the age of six had died due to malnutrition and related illnesses since April in Rafiq Nagar, a Govandi slum, central government and civic officials visited the spot.
The slum, not far from the Bandra-Kurla Complex, is home to mainly migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh. Their children have no access to food distributed through the Public Distribution System since their families don’t have ration cards, nor is there a civic health post in the slum. Between 40% and 60% of the city’s nearly 7.3 lakh slum children up to four years of age are malnourished.
CM Prithviraj Chavan was away in Gadchiroli and did not respond to phone calls. He did not respond to a message left at his residence either. Women and child development minister Varsha Gaikwad did not respond to calls or text messages through the day. “A CM-appointed committee will look into urban malnutrition, particularly issues involving the food and civil supplies department,” she had said last week.
Officers of the Integrated Child Development Services, a Central scheme to tackle malnutrition, visited the homes of some of the malnourished children. A doctor examined Gulanaz Sheikh, who turned one in September but weighs only 5 kg.
“She exhibited signs of severe malnourishment. We will send her to Nair hospital,” said a scheme officer requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Apart from nutrients, these children need medicines for worms and other conditions that don’t allow them to grow as they should.”
Workers at anganwadis — government-funded day care centres for underprivileged children through which the scheme operates — are supposed to refer malnourished children to nearby hospitals. “I have instructed the workers to pay extra attention to the children and ensure that they get the required treatment,” the officer said.
Civic Medical Health Officer Vinita Jadhav, who is in charge of the slum, admitted there had been deaths but contested the figure quoted by Hindustan Times.
“We haven’t done a survey recently but the number of deaths is not as high as 16,” said Jadhav, who has assigned officials to collect the data.
Academics from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) also visited the area to start a systematic analysis based on data collected over the years by Apnalaya, an organisation that works with malnourished children.
“Once we have the findings, we will approach the authorities concerned,” said Dr Kasturi Sen Ray, professor of nutrition, TISS.