The plea also raised concerns on the dearth of gynecologists, pediatricians and radiologists in public health centres in Melghat and other tribal areas in the state.

MUMBAI: Tribals have to be brought into the mainstream for health care, Bombay high court said on Monday while hearing a clutch of public interest litigation (PIL) on malnutrition deaths in Maharashtra’s tribal districts.

“First priority is these deaths should be stopped. Gradually you have to bring them to the mainstream so far as healthcare is concerned. They cannot go to tantriks,” said Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni.

On Monday, Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted that the state public health department has initiated a recruitment drive where 1500 doctors, including specialists, have been appointed across the state and some of them are for the tribal regions.

He listed various problems faced by authorities while addressing the issue of malnutrition deaths including “early marriages” in tribal people, “orthodox way of life,” such as not availing of medical help during the delivery of the child and preferring deliveries at the home, leading to low birth rate among others. He added that many tribal persons approach tantriks/mantriks to cure their ailments instead of visiting hospitals.

“We have a scheme to pay tantriks an incentive of Rs 200 for referring such cases directly to government hospitals or public health centres, and there has been some progress (in the regard),” Kumbhakoni added.

The petitioners, through senior counsel Jugal Kishore Gilda and advocate Uday Warunjikar, said that measures taken by the government despite various HC orders since 1993 were insufficient, adding that officials had shown apathy in implementing various schemes for the health and welfare of pregnant women and newborns.

After hearing the submissions, the bench said, “We would like you (state) to first focus on how deaths can be stopped. Once they stop, you need to bring them into the mainstream in regards to addressing their healthcare. They cannot be left to go to tantrik for ailments. Even in the Andaman Islands, people from the Jarawa community are now coming to hospitals and mixing with people…”

But Melghat based activist Bandu Sane and advocate Jugal Kishore Gilda, for a petitioner, said several such reports have been submitted to HC of steps taken by the State but efforts are not seen on the field.

“From 93 till today more than 10000 children have died in Melghat. They need doctors,” said Sane. It was then that the judges said tribals have to be brought into mainstream health care. Citing the example of the Jarawa tribe in the Andaman islands, the CJ said, “When they fall ill they come to the hospital.”

Adjourning the hearing, the bench said, “It will be gradual, but it has to be done. We have to save children. We are not disposing of this matter and would hear it twice a month, every fortnight. At least our efforts have to be there to protect the children.”