Jawhar, Palghar: At the Patangshah cottage hospital in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, the mood is tense.
With 22 severely malnourished children admitted here, their parents are a worried lot.
Ajit Khadam, father of eight month-old Suraj told NDTV, “My son weights 3.5 kg. Doctors say that’s half of what is considered normal weight for children at his age.”
“We feed him milk, dal, yet he is malnourished. I had no choice but to get him admitted to the hospital and he is being constantly monitored,” he added.
District collector Abhijit Bangar had said on Tuesday that as many as 212 children died in the district since April this year due to malnutrition.
The State Health Minister Deepak Sawant admitted that cases of malnourished tribal children have risen, but contested the number of deaths. He said that not all deaths were due to malnourishment, some deaths were due to drowning, snake bites and other ailments.
Last week, Maharashtra’s Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Sawra had to face the ire after he shot back at the grieving tribals in Khoch village in Palghar, and had to leave.
As the issue gathered steam, the state’s Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde visited the families who lost their children due to malnutrition in the district and also announced a new scheme on Wednesday .
“We are planning to start a monitoring system. We are starting a ‘Jachcha Bachcha’ programme where every mother will be educated on childcare,” said Ms Munde.
“I will tour the tribal-dominated districts of the state once in two months to review the situation and resolve the issues faced by people,” she added.
She underlined the need for social awakening in the tribal region to fight the incidents of child deaths and said this can be achieved only by proper co-ordination between Women and Child Welfare, Health and Tribal Development departments for which the government is making efforts.
Ms Munde also donated Rs 51,000 from ‘Gopinath Munde Education Fund’ for the education of the sister of Sagar Wagh, who recently died of malnutrition.
The activists, however, question the government’s intent after it slashed budget provided under Integrated Child Development Scheme.
Activist and social worker Vivek Pandit who started a camp to provide nourishment to malnourished children in and around Jawhar area in Palghar said, “The government has been insensitive towards people living in the tribal belt. Can malnutrition be achieved without employment and social upliftment of rural Maharashtra?”
As per the latest National Family Health Survey, 83,000 children below 6 years of age are severely underweight and 9.4 per cent children are severely malnourished in Maharashtra.