KOLKATA: As if the death of 19 tribal children in Odisha due to malnutrition was not bad enough, a minister in Naveen Patnaik’s government has now blamed the disaster on the large size of tribal families.
“Each tribal family has 8-9 children. There’s no family planning and therefore the malnutrition deaths,” Minister of Women and Child Welfare Usha Devi said.
“They also won’t come down from their village in the hill,” she added.
24 hours after the insensitive comment, which was slammed by the opposition, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik did not condemn the minister. This afternoon while leaving the state secretariat, Mr Patnaik said, “A task force has been set up to investigate the issue and take necessary steps.”
However, he did not answer questions on Usha Devi’s comment.
Condemning the statement, senior BJP leader Vijay Mahapatra said, “There is no governance by Naveen Patnaik and his ministers are completely insensitive. Mr Patnaik has been chief minister for 16 years and it seems his government did not even know about the Juang tribe of Nagada.”
While BJP lawmaker Pradeep Purohit called it “a failed government”, Congress legislator Tara Prasad Bahinipati said “the government has failed the people of Nagada”.
However, BJD legislator Mahesh Sahu dismissed allegations of government failure. “Now that it has come to our attention, we are doing what we can for the people of Nagada,” he said.
“It is not the government’s failure, if there’s any failure it is a bureaucratic failure,” he added.
In the last 6 months, 19 infants have died in Nagada village due to malnutrition and related diseases. Nagada is a 10 kilometer uphill trek in the Sukhinda block of Jajpur district. Around January 20, volunteers working with Tata and an NGO called Aspire reported an outbreak of chicken pox in the area. Many of the sick children were brought to the Tata Steel Hospital at Sukhinda for treatment. 16 more were brought on Sunday. Many of the children appeared visibly malnourished.