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.