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Shinde admits 59 deaths, waives food loan arrears

By Our Special Correspondent

MUMBAI, JULY 16. The Maharashtra Chief Minister, Sushilkumar Shinde, today denied that 1041 children in the tribal areas had died due to malnutrition during April and May and maintained that at the most 59 deaths could be attributed to malnutrition.

Speaking at a press conference here, Mr. Shinde identified 15 causes for the deaths, ranging from low birth weight and pneumonia to dysentery and snakebite that claimed 982 children who were normal and of normal weight. "Only 59 children who died could be due to malnutrition for they belonged to Grade-3 and Grade-4 weight," he said.

Mr. Shinde rejected a suggestion that the children were susceptible to most of the diseases that he had listed because they were malnourished and said that according to the Union Government vetted statistics, the infant mortality rate of Maharashtra had come down to 45 compared to 90 of Orissa, 86 of Madhya Pradesh, 82 of Uttar Pradesh and 78 of Rajasthan.

Mr. Shinde also cited the statement of the Union Human Resources Minister, Arjun Singh, that the State had done well in the areas of women and child welfare. He said the Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP combine had blown the incidents out of proportion. Recently, the State Government had provided 167 mobile medical teams to the tribal areas in 15 districts and intensive paediatric care units at 39 places besides maternity aid to over 65,000 expecting mothers.

Besides, the State Cabinet today decided to write off tribal food loan arrears of Rs. 41 crores and more than doubled the loan in terms of foodgrains and cash to Rs. 2000 in case of a family of four, to Rs. 4000 for families having more than eight members.

The Government had also appointed a high-power committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary to check malnutrition deaths in the State, he added.

Mr. Shinde said the Government would "take action on a war footing to avoid such deaths" and appealed to the Opposition not to politicise the tragedy and join hands with the Government to work for tribal welfare.

"They had a chance to bring down the infant mortality to zero if they wanted but they did not. I can quote the figures about the conditions that prevailed during their rule but I do not want to politicise the matter," he said.

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