Mumbai: Maharashtra Minister for Tribal Welfare Vishnu Sawra was chased away by the mother of a tribal child who died of severe malnutrition in Palghar district, some 100km north of Mumbai.
The minister had gone to meet the grieving family living in a thatched hut at Khoch village in Mokhada when the mother vented her ire and said, “Where were you when my son died. You are coming after 15 days. We do not want to meet you.” The incident was captured on video and went viral, inviting an angry reaction from people.
Other villagers too expressed anger at the failure of the administration to tackle the problem of malnutrition in the tribal-dominated area, which is not very far from this thriving metropolis. When they told him that ‘600’ children had died this year and asked what he had done for them, he said, “So what? The government is doing its work, implementing schemes …” At this juncture, the irate villagers chased him away, and to this he said, “If you don’t want me to come, then I won’t.”
Opposition party leaders from both the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, including Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil from the Congress have demanded Sawra’s resignation. Even the Shiv Sena called his remarks insensitive.
The minister had gone after Maharashtra Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, concerned about reports on rising incidence of malnutrition among children in Palghar, had two days back called a meeting of ministers and officials to discuss this nagging problem in the district. The Governor said the government must reach out to every single child suffering from malnutrition.
Minister for Women and Child Welfare Pankaja Munde said that a meeting of concerned ministers, secretaries and collectors and CEOs of tribal districts in Maharashtra will be convened on September 20 and three ministers — including for tribal welfare and public health — would pay a joint visit to Mokhada to assess the situation.
Minister for Public Health Dr Deepak Sawant told the Governor that the malnutrition problem in Mokhada was a very complex issue involving various factors including discontinuation of the Central scheme of Village and Child Development Centres, large scale migration of tribals for employment, a large number of vacancies for the post of doctors and convergence of schemes of various departments. He said he had asked all private hospitals to send their teams of doctors and paediatricians to Mokhada.
During recent health camps, it was found that nearly 28 per cent children were severely underweight in Mokhada. Since July, 17 children have died of malnutrition in Mokhada alone.
Last year, as many as 1,274 children below 6 years died of malnutrition in three districts — Nandurbar (662), Palghar (418) and Thane (194) — in ten months.
According to the World Bank, India has among the highest number of children suffering from malnutrition.