27 May 2023 7:50 AM GMT
While hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) pertaining to a serious condition which has emerged in district of Jajpur, particularly in Danagadi and Sukinda blocks, due to severe malnutrition among some children, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Gourishankar Satapathy has ordered the State Government to take all necessary measures to eliminate severe and...
While hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) pertaining to a serious condition which has emerged in district of Jajpur, particularly in Danagadi and Sukinda blocks, due to severe malnutrition among some children, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Dr. S. Muralidhar and Justice Gourishankar Satapathy has ordered the State Government to take all necessary measures to eliminate severe and acute malnourishment by the end of 2023.
Statistics Of SAM & MAM Children
The Collector, Jajpur informed the Court that 11 children whose instances were cited in the petition, 4 out of them were severely and acutely malnourished (SAM). 3 of the children were moderately acutely malnourished (MAM) and one child, who was suffering from cerebral palsy and secondary malnutrition had died. The remaining children were stated to be ‘normal’ children.
The Secretary, Women and Child Development Department (WCD) stated that there are approximately 36 lakh children in Odisha and 28,541 (as of April, 2023) are stated to be in the SAM category. In July, 2022 this figure stood at 49,205. Further, she conveyed that around 86,000 children in Odisha could belong to the MAM category.
In the affidavit of the WCD Ministry, Government of India, it was stated that as of April, 2023, 1.29 lakh children in Jajpur who were measured out of which 0.78% were found to be SAM and 2.11% were found to be MAM which is lower than the national average of 2.26% SAM and 4.75 % MAM.
“At the outset, this Court would like to observe that while discussing issues relating to health of persons and of children in particular, presenting statistics in terms of percentages would hide more than they reveal about the ground situation. Perhaps human lives and human health should, in the present context, not be discussed in terms of percentages but by acknowledging that they are actual persons,” the Court said emphatically.
The Court expressed disappointment over the fact that there are nearly 30,000 SAM and 86,000 MAM children in Odisha in 2023. It said if one were to understand the national percentages of 2.26% SAM and 4.75% MAM on a 1.8 billion population and translate them into actual numbers, the severity of problem would become more evident.
Exclusion Of Children Above 6 Years
The Court also highlighted that a child above six years of age usually gets excluded from the benefit of most of the schemes as it is presumed that a child over the age of six will be enrolled in a government school where he/she will get a Mid-Day Meal (MDM).
“This is just a ‘presumption’ since there are statistics that show that there are a substantial number of children, and in particular girl children, who drop out of school or are not enrolled at all to begin with. Again, as regards adolescent children, the benefit has been restricted to girl children between 14 and 18. In other words, instead of increasing the coverage of the schemes for all children in need from age 0 onwards, it appears that specific age groups of children actually get ‘excluded’ from the benefit of many of the schemes. This requires a serious re-think at the level of both the Government of India and the State of Odisha”, it added.
Need For Coordination Of Tribal Welfare Dept.
The Collector, Jajpur conveyed the Court that people belonging to the Schedules Tribes (ST) are not willing to have their children treated at the public health facilities. They are often required to be persuaded and sometimes even coerced to get their children treated at the government health care facilities.
“This points to the fact that more active efforts would have to be made by the Tribal Welfare Department to spread awareness of the existence of the schemes and to convince the tribal populations that they are intended to positively benefit them and their children”, the Court suggested.
Directions To Collector & CDMO, Keonjhar
The Bench acknowledged that the instant petition has highlighted the alarming situation concerning SAM and MAM children only in the Danagadi and Sukinda Blocks in Jajpur district in Odisha. It suspected that there could be other districts and blocks in Odisha where the situation may be even worse.
After perusing the statistics produced by the Commissioner-cum-Secretary, WCD Department, the Court came to know that in Keonjhar district there are 2,820 children in the SAM category who would require immediate attention. Therefore, it extended the scope of the petition to include Keonjhar district as well.
“The Collector and the CDMO, Keonjhar are accordingly directed to undertake visits to the Blocks in Keonjhar district in the next one month to ascertain for themselves the factual position regarding children in the SAM and MAM categories, but not stop at that. Just like the Collector, Jajpur has been able to identify the broader category of ‘vulnerable’ children and has undertaken to also identify the category of ‘vulnerable women’, the CDMO and the Collector, Keonjhar will do likewise”, it ordered.
Direction To Draw Action Plan
Acknowledging the need for participation and coordination of the Departments of School & Mass Education, WCD, Health and Family Welfare, Tribal Welfare and Food and Civil Supplies, their respective secretaries were directed to hold a review meeting within one month from today. The Secretaries of the Odisha State Commission for Women, Odisha Food Commission and the Odisha Child Rights Commission were also directed to participate in such meeting.
“The Chief Secretary, Government of Odisha will convene the said meeting in the next one month in order to draw up an action plan to achieve the target of complete absence of SAM children in Odisha and a reduction by more than half of MAM children in Odisha by the end of 2023”, the Bench ordered.
The matter is now listed on August 1, 2023 for the next hearing.
Case Title: Mantu Das v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No.: W.P.(C) No. 12966 of 2023
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. Afraaz Suhail, Advocate
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr. P.K. Parhi, DSGI; Mr. D.R. Bhokta, CGC; Mr. Debakanta Mohanty, Addl. Govt. Advocate
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ori) 64
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment