High Court tells Maha govt: List steps taken to tackle malnutrition

The Bombay High Court today directed the Maharashtra government to list down the steps taken by it to implement previous orders of the court on tackling malnutrition in the state.

A bench of justices Naresh Patil and G S Kulkarni earlier this week gave the directions while taking note of the information given by petitioners that over 300 children in the tribal areas across Maharashtra had died between September, 2017 and January, 2018 due to malnutrition and related causes.

The court also directed the state to file a status report on the medical facilities, including primary health care centres, and the number of doctors present in tribal areas like Melghat and Nandurbar.

Directing the government to take immediate steps to provide necessary medical aid to the residents, especially the children in such areas, the bench also directed its counsel to take instructions on how the funds allocated by the state and the Centre for tribal welfare were being used.

It also sought details of the packaged food and raw food grains that the state claimed to be providing for residents and children in these areas.

The court was hearing a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) highlighting a rise in malnutrition deaths and illnesses among those living in Melghat region of Vidarbha and other tribal areas in Maharashtra.

Different benches of the Bombay High Court had passed several orders on the issue over the last two years, directing the government to ensure that people in the tribal areas get adequate nutrition, health care, sanitation and education facilities.

During the last hearing, the petitioners – some activists and NGOs – working in the tribal areas informed the bench that 318 children had died due to malnutrition and lack of medical care between September, 2017 and January, 2018 in Melghat and its neighbouring areas.

The government claimed before the court that the situation in these areas had “improved considerably” and that it was taking all possible remedial measures.

The bench, however, took note of the petitioners’ arguments that despite previous orders of the court, tribal areas in the state continued to grapple with inadequate medical facilities.

“318 children from Melghat and its nearby areas succumbed to various diseases and ailments, and for want of proper medical care and aid. The learned Assistant Government Pleader submits that the situation has considerably improved and the state is monitoring and providing necessary backup services to these areas,” the bench said.

“However, the petitioners inform that the tribal areas around Melghat and Nandurbar continue to face apathy and are still deprived of proper medical care and necessary infrastructure facilities,” it added.

“A status report be placed on record. And in the meanwhile, the state shall take immediate steps to provide necessary medical aid to the residents of the subject areas.

It must also focus its attention on the children,” the bench said.

It directed the state to organise medical camps, appoint doctors at least on contract basis, and arrange for vehicles to ensure that doctors and assistant medical staff reach these areas whenever necessary.

In October last year, a bench led by then chief justice of Bombay HC Manjula Chellur had rapped the state government over its failure to provide adequate nutrition and medical aid for the tribal children.

The bench had also passed a detailed order directing the state to inform the court of how the funds received for tribal areas were being utilised.

Maha says CBI can’t probe Adarsh scam

Even as the CBI today filed its charge sheet in the Adarsh scam, the Bombay High Court allowed Ministry of Defence to submit within two weeks its response to Maharashtra government’s claim that the central agency had no jurisdiction to probe it.

The Maharashtra government and the Adarsh society filed their affidavits before the court questioning the agency’s authority to probe the case without its approval, nearly a year-and-half after it began the investigation.

They contested the propriety of the CBI probe on the ground that neither the state government nor the High Court had handed over the investigation to the premier investigative agency.

The affidavit submitted by the counsel for the state government A Y Sakhare said the state had not made any request under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, to CBI to investigate the scam. The agency derives its powers from this Act to investigate cases.

The division bench comprising justices S A Bobade and Mridula Bhatkar allowed the MoD to intervene in the PILs in the Adarsh scam after its counsel Kevic Setalvad opposed the state government’s claim that Adarsh land belonged to it and that CBI cannot probe the scam.

He pleaded before the court to allow MoD to intervene inthe matter which was granted.

Counsels for Adarsh Society and state government Shekhar Naphade and A Y Sakhare opposed MoD lawyer’s plea to intervene in the matter, saying the Adarsh Inquiry Commission had already settled the issue of ownership of the land in state’s favour.

The judges said the court would have to examine whether any order was passed earlier asking the CBI to probe the scam.

It was on a recommendation from MoD that the CBI had launched a probe in the Adarsh scam.

The affidavit filed by Ruprao Deshmukh, Joint Secretary in the Home department, said, on CBI’s specific request the state had made available the records and extended all cooperation to the premier investigative agency.

The affidavit said the Adarsh Inquiry Commission appointed by the state to probe alleged irregularities in construction of the building in upscale Colaba had submitted its interim report in April and that it will take appropriate action after receiving the final report.

After hearing the arguments, justices Bobade and Bhatkar directed the MoD to file an affidavit in response to Maharashtra government’s stand within two weeks and adjourned the hearing on the PILs till July 18.

The court allowed the MoD access to all documents to enable it to file its reply.

The court was hearing PILs filed by social activists Simpreet Singh and Pravin Wategaonkar seeking monitoring of the probe by the High Court and invoking provisions of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in the case.

The agency had registered a case in the scam on January 29 last year under IPC sections including criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery and showing forged document as genuine, besides sections pertaining to Prevention of Corruption Act.

Former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Congress leader K L Gidwani, top-ranking retired army officers Lt General P K Rampal, Major Generals A R Kumar and T K Kaul, retired brigadiers R C Sharma and M M Wanchoo are among the accused

The FIR also names Subash Lala, the then principal secretary to Chief Minister, former principal secretary of the Urban Development Department Ramanand Tiwari, former municipal commissioner and IAS officer Jairaj Phatak and fellow IAS colleague and former Mumbai collector Pradeep Vyas as accused.

The late mother-in-law and sister-in-law of Chavan had flats in the society. Chavan was Revenue Minister between 2001-2003 and had dealt with files pertaining to the ownership of land. He is alleged to have recommended allotment of 40 per cent flats in the building to civilians and also changed the development plan to favour the society which was said to be meant for Kargil widows and war heroes.

The MoD had ordered a CBI probe in the scam on the recommendation of the Army Chief following a preliminary inquiry.

Besides CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department are also probing the irregularities.

Apart from Chavan, two former Maharashtra Chief Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde and Vilasrao Deshmukh are under the lens for granting clearances in violation of norms.