The Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to take immediate steps to fill up vacancies of doctors and expert assistant medical staff in tribal areas of Melghat and Nandurbar that are known for high rates of malnutrition.
A bench of Justices Naresh Patil and GS Kulkarni also suggested that the government tie up with some private health care specialists and hospitals to ensure that some doctors and essential medical aid can be sent to such areas at least in case of an emergency.
The bench gave these directions last week while hearing a bunch of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) highlighting hike in malnutrition deaths and illnesses among those living in Melghat region of Vidarbha and other tribal areas of the state.
Different benches of the Bombay HC have passed several orders on the issue over the last two years, directing the state government to ensure those in tribal areas in the state get adequate nutrition, health care, sanitation, and education facilities.
The bench also suggested that the government encourage corporate bodies to take up the cause of providing health care in tribal areas, as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives.
The directions came after the state submitted an affidavit stating among other things, that some corporate bodies had helped in providing water, power etc. in Melghat in Amravati district and other tribal areas including Nandurbar.
Appearing for the government, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the bench that some private hospitals from Mumbai have assisted it in holding free health camps from time to time in rural pockets up to Palghar.
The bench, however, noted that while the above steps deserved to be appreciated, they were apparently inadequate.
"It is apparent that such health camps don't reach to the more remote areas. The tribal population in Melghat and Nandurbar continues to suffer and has no access to even basic health care.
"For this, the government will have to fill up vacancies in the primary health centres there, and provide gynaecologists and paediatricians immediately. You will have to conduct a recruitment drive to fill up vacancies for medical staff in these areas immediately," the bench said.
Kumbhakoni assured the court that the government was implementing measures to encourage doctors to serve in tribal areas and to incentivise such work for them.
Such incentives, include among other things, an additional 30% weightage on marksheet of fresh MBBS passouts who serve in tribal areas, he said, adding that this additional marks will give them an advantage at the time of admissions to PG courses.
Kumbhakoni also informed the court that the state had delegated some powers to district collectors in tribal areas, permitting them to recruit and transfer doctors and assistant medical staff.
The bench has now given an additional four weeks to the state to submit a progress report and also list down the steps it proposes to take in the future to provide adequate healthcare in Melghat and its neighbouring areas.