HRLN files petition seeking action against alarming number of children dying from malnutrition in MP

Shriprakash Singh Nimraje vs State of MP & Ors Several children have died of malnutrition-related ailments in Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur district and other regions of Shivpuri in the last year, as a result of the state’s failure to ensure proper nutrition for infants and young children. Having received news of these deaths, a team from Indore visited Gwalior to conduct a fact-finding mission in February, 2017. They visited around four villages and met with parents of 13 children who died of malnutrition. They also met with the AMC, anganwadi workers and visited the CHC and PHC. The team found that three Nutrition Rehabilitation centres (NRC) have been established in Shivpuri, but these were overcrowded and lacked facilities as well as adequately trained healthcare providers. They found children being forced to sleep on the floor at the NRC because of a paucity of beds. They also lay there for several hours, unattended by doctords. This was not all. They found that the Integrated Child Development Scheme which established Anganwadi Centres had not been providing proper supplementary nutritional support for pregnant or lactating mothers and their infants and children. The team found that most deaths came from tribal areas of Sheopur and Shivpuri, and some other districts. Armed with the results of this mission, they filed a petition in the Gwalior high court within the next three days. The petition pointed out that according to the national family health survey, 42.8 per cent of children in MP (about 39 lakhs) are underweight, 42 per cent (around 38 lakhs) are stunted and 9.2 per cent (around 8.4 lakhs) are severely malnourished and wasted. Further, according to a 2015 report, the state has the highest number of malnourished children in the country with 74.1 per cent of children under 5 suffering from anaemia and 69.5 per cent being anaemic. In 2006, according to the NFHS-3 the number of malnourished children in the state was 6 million -- which is over 60 per cent of the total number of children under the age of 5. Of these 6 million malnourished children, 1.3 million have Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and another 1 million have Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM). Madhya Pradesh is the most affected state in case of deaths due to malnourishment. A recent report estimated that 37 per cent deaths registered between 0 to 4 years in Madhya Pradesh were due to chronic hunger and malnutrition. It is found that backward classes especially Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are the worst affected in the state. Incidentally, these two communities constitute a sizeable chunk of the state’s population. Another shocking statistic the petition offered was that the population of anaemic children and pregnant women in the state is more than 50 per cent. In 2015, according to the NFHS-4, nearly 55 per cent of the children below the age of 5 years were underweight in Sheopur. In MP, a total of 42 per cent of the children come under this category. It further made note of the various schemes the central and state government has introduced with the goal of improving maternal and infant health, and bringing down malnutrition and mortality. However, the steep numbers of child deaths show that these are not being implemented in their letter and spirit on the ground. Thus, the petition prayed for the court to direct the state to reimburse the family of each of the deceased children an interim compensation of Rs 1 lakh, proper disciplinary action against negligent medical staff, an increase in the numbers of NRCs, PHCs, CHCs and district hospitals as needed, the provision of better quality and more nutritious food at angandwadi centres. It also asked for the court’s direction to ensure that needy families are provided with the food grains and subsidies they are entitled to under the National Food Security Act (2013). This case is still ongoing, and we will update it as it develops.