Widespread malnutrition in Maharashtra recently came into spotlight with the deaths of 13 children in the last two months in the tribal district of Palghar, which is located less than 100 km from Mumbai. At time when Palghar district is in the fore with repeated child malnutrition deaths, the wider picture is grim. According to data from the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the state is going through wider crises, especially in the tribal belt. In the single month of August, 1,588 deaths of children below the age of five years were reported across the state due to malnutrition.
As many as 520 deaths of children below the age of six were reported in the tribal belt of Palghar between April and August this year. The district showed 80 percent increase in the death rate compared to last year’s 289 deaths. The highest number of child deaths in same time span was reported in Amravati. Amravati reported 88 deaths of children below the age of six. Gadchiroli reported 70 child deaths, Nashik reported 72 deaths and Palghar reported 47.
The crisis has been mainly seen in the tribal region of the state. From 27,432 cases reported last year, in the same five month span till August, 30,128 children below five were reported severely underweight this year, showing considerable increase in the cases of underweight children.
Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, malnutrition is a huge problem in India. Four out of 10 stunted (symptom of malnutrition) children globally are Indian. Nandurbar (47.6%) and Yavatmal (47.4%) districts of Maharashtra, have a higher rate of stunted children than war-torn Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. According to the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF Almost half of children younger than five years – or about 54 million children – are stunted in India.
According to activists funding cuts for welfare schemes in the National Rural Health Mission are the main cause of these deaths. “These children died because central government funding for welfare schemes was cut, and the state did not direct adequate funds for its scheme,” said Vivek Pandit, founder of Shramjivi Sanghatana, which works with vulnerable people in Maharashtra. Plaghar is a poor district and is hugely dependent on Government schemes. The Modi Government slashed funding for a scheme that gives millions of poor children free food, pumping that money into building more roads, ports and infrastructure in his first full-year budget last year.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the government of Maharashtra asking for a detailed report on the deaths within four weeks. State Women and Child Development Minister Pankaja Munde visited the affected villages in Palghar and also pledged to implement a child welfare scheme.
The Bombay high court expressed its concern over the increasing amount of deaths caused by malnutrition, as per figures provided to the court in the last one year around 17,000 children died in different parts of Maharashtra which led the HC to question the state on this matter. A division bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice Swapna Joshi said, “This is a serious matter and the government should take immediate steps to address this problem.”
The court has asked the Government to take immediate steps to help malnourished children and their mothers. The court also asked the government to depute gynecologists and pediatricians the tribal areas and also increase their remuneration.
The problem of Malnutrition in Maharashtra is on a rise and the situation seems grim, thus remedial steps against malnutrition are urgently required in Maharashtra. Though the government claims in taking steps regarding malnutrition children’s deaths due to starvation is still on the rise.