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No clean chit to Maharashtra on malnutrition deaths: Arjun Singh

By Our Special Correspondent

MUMBAI, JULY 16. The Union Human Resource Development Minister, Arjun Singh, today clarified that he had not given a "clean chit" to the Maharashtra Government on its handling of the malnutrition deaths in the State's tribal districts as reported by the local media. "I never gave anyone a clean chit," he said. "The question of children and health is a tragic issue. We should come together and see what can be done to prevent this."

Top State Government officials had briefed Mr. Singh about the current situation in the tribal districts where child deaths were reported. "I don't think there has been any indifference or any deliberate neglect," he said. "We should not play politics with such issues." What happened in Maharashtra had also occurred in other States, he added.

Mr. Singh was in Mumbai to preside over a meeting called by the Maharashtra State Women's Commission on `An Agenda for the Empowerment of Women — 2004-2014'. The heads of State women's commissions as well as activists and feminist scholars from all over the country participated. They presented to the Minister a list of recommendations covering education, health, women's employment and violence against women.

Noted Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising urged Mr. Singh to consider introducing a civil law on domestic violence as well as laws dealing with communal violence because of its specific impact on women. "It is time for all Ministries to coordinate and come out with a policy document on women. This will send a strong message to society that we will not tolerate violence against women," she said.

Presenting the recommendations on health, Lakshmi Lingam of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said the Common Minimum Programme of the United Progressive Alliance Government had identified 150 districts with high population growth. She said it was imperative that no coercion be used to promote population control measures as this would run contrary to internationally endorsed norms on reproductive health and rights.

The two-child norm for elected representatives in panchayats and nagarpalikas had adversely affected women's participation in local governments, she said.

Responding to the presentation, Mr. Singh said his Ministry intended to call an all-India meeting of all women's commissions by next month.

"We want to try and learn what women think about what is happening in the country," he said.

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