High court notice to Madhya Pradesh on child deaths

September 20th, 2008 - 5:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhopal, Sep 20 (IANS) The Madhya Pradesh government has now been pulled up by the state high court for over 160 alleged child deaths due to malnutrition, a day after a Supreme Court panel reprimanded it for neglecting the health of children.A division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Ajit Singh Friday issued a notice to the government and sought a reply by Sep 25 while hearing a petition filed by the NGO, MP Right to Food Campaign (MPRTFC).

The MPRTFC had brought to the notice of the court that 163 children had died in Satna, Khandwa, Shivpuri and Sheopur dstricts in the past four months due to alleged malnutrition.

The court asked the government to give details of the immediate steps taken with regard to the child deaths and also long-term plans to ensure that such incidents do not recur.

Lawyer Raghvendra Kumar is pleading the case on behalf of the NGO, which had filed the petition in May 2007. The NGO’s petition said despite a high court notice in December, the state government had failed to file its reply till date.

It was brought to the notice of the court that the government had also not put forth its stand on the deaths in January and August this year.

The state government’s counsel Vijay Kumar Shukla told the court that officials were touring the affected districts and reports were being compiled.

Seema and Prakash of Spandan Samaj Sevi Sanstha, who have been working in Khandwa and are co-petitioners in the PIL, have said the child deaths were not sudden but were fallout of different factors like failure of the government to provide work to poor families under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

They also cited the reduction of the quota of food grain for below poverty line families from 35 kg to 20 kg in violation of a Supreme Court order.

Petitioner Sachin Jain has termed the deaths of the children as “state-sponsored” as the deaths are continuing despite several warnings to government regarding the situation.

He said during the last 40 months as many as 97,000 children under the age of one year had perished in the state. Jain said the government wanted to shirk its responsibilities but people and civil society organisations would force it to respond.

Earlier, in a letter written to State Chief Secretary R.C. Sahni, two Supreme Court commissioners who monitor the implementation of food and employment related schemes in the country have also pointed out the state’s failure to implement welfare schemes, particularly in districts where malnutrition deaths have been reported in the past four months.

Besides Satna and Khandwa, where at least 80 deaths have taken place in the past four months, there have been similar reports and complaints from Chhattarpur, Panna, Rewa, Tikamgarh, Sheopur and Shivpuri as well.

“The media reports have been even more grave, reporting much higher figures - the death of more than 125 children under six years of age in four districts of Madhya Pradesh since May 2008,” said the letter written by N.C. Saxena and Harsh Mander.

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