Ramakanta Biswas

The Orissa High Court on Thursday directed the State government to draw up an action plan to achieve the target of complete absence of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and reduction of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) by more than half in children by the end of 2023.  

The division bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice Gourishankar Satapathy passed the order while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) on the deaths of 11 children in Danagadi block of Odisha’s Jajpur district due to malnutrition.

"While this petition has highlighted the alarming situation concerning SAM and MAM children in the Danagadi and Sukinda Blocks in Jajpur district in Odisha, there could be other districts and blocks in Odisha where the situation may be equally bad or perhaps even worse," the bench observed.  

During the hearing, Secretary of the State WCD Department stated that there are approximately 36 lakh children in Odisha of which 28,541 (as of April, 2023) are stated to be in the SAM category. Further, around 86,000 children in Odisha belong to the MAM category.

"To have in Odisha in 2023 nearly 30,000 SAM and 86,000 MAM children is a cause for alarm not just for the State of Odisha but for the Government of India as well," the bench observed.  

"Perhaps human lives and human health should, in the present context, not be discussed in terms of percentages but by acknowledging that they are actual persons," the bench added. 

The division bench directed the secretaries of the Women & Child Development, School and Mass Education, Health and Family Welfare Department, Tribal Welfare and Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare departments to hold a meeting within one month to firm up the action plan and start working towards achieving the target.

The court has scheduled the next hearing on August 1, 2023. 

"The minutes of the meeting be placed before the Court with an affidavit before the next date. The compliance with the directions issued in this order also be indicated in the said affidavit," the court added.