Mumbai: Malnutrition has in no way decreased in the state of Maharashtra since the ground realities show that the state government is not taking a serious view of it and this is apparent in a large Mumbai slum where it is normal to see poverty-stricken emaciated children, say social activists.
In the last few weeks, it has been reported that three children died of malnutrition in Rafiq Nagar slum in Govandi, a north-east suburb of Mumbai. In 2010, after reports of 16 malnutrition deaths in this slum appeared in newspapers, a team of activists, students from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, volunteers and journalists set out on a survey to study the ground situation. And they found that even basic facilities of clean drinking water, toilets and health and medical facilities were absent here. Such a situation prevails not just here but in several slum pockets across Mumbai and Maharashtra, they maintain.
“Therefore, the Comprehensive Nutrition Survey in Maharashtra, conducted by the Indian Institute of Population Sciences and UNICEF, which was released a few days back, is completely wrong as it has observed malnutrition is declining in the state,” said Shabbir Deshmukh, President, Movement for Peace and Justice (MPJ), at a press conference today. The MPJ’s survey in 2010 had come up with shocking results—that nearly 250 among 650 children in this slum were in various stages of mild to moderate malnutrition.
The report, released by Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, found that infant mortality rate had had decreased from 28 percent to 25 percent and that stunting in children under the age of two has decreased 16 percent compared with 2005-2006. The survey had attributed the improvement to good infant and young child feeding practices and nutrition care for women.
“How can they conduct a survey of just 3,000 or so households and come up with this conclusion for such a big state,” asks Deshmukh. “Our two-year work and survey of Rafiq Nagar revealed the pathetic condition of children, which moved us to file a writ petition in the Bombay High Court. The court appointed a high-level committee on this issue but yet the ground realities remain unchanged,” he says angrily.
In this slum, there is only one Primary Health Centre, which is located 3 km away. There are no public toilets for the 600 families leading to unhygienic conditions. Tenants of tenements have to pay Rs 120 for electricity connection for a tubelight or fan to the owner. Drinking water is provided by municipality once in two or three days. Whilst these basic problems have not been addressed by the authorities, despite the court’s intervention, the people’s demand to shift the garbage dumping ground elsewhere has gone unheard, says Deshmukh.