Maharashtra human rights panel summons PIL litigant

The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has woken up to the deaths of tribal children in ashram shalas and have summoned Pune-based PIL litigantRavindra Talpe among others for a hearing on November 24, four years after filing a police complaint and a public interest litigation (PIL) in the high court.
As per the PIL, nearly 700 children died of various illnesses, including malaria, food poisoning, snake bites and drowning, in ashram shalas over the last 10 years.

The state rights commission has summoned the organizations that were part of the PIL, including president of Maharashtra Adivasi Seva Sangh, president Natural Resource Conservators Organisation, president Adivasi Samaj Kruti Samiti, Adivasi Mahasangh and principal secretary of the tribal department.

The summons stated that the SHRC wants to "hear out the litigants" or "complaints" regarding the issue. The litigants have been asked to be present for the hearing, failing which the SHRC will be free to take a decision, it stated.

Talpe said the SHRC woke up to the issue four years after a PIL regarding the death of tribal children was filed in the high court. Thereafter, there have been many hearings as well as surveys and reports on the issue.

The National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) had earlier pulled up the state government for deaths due to malnutrition and now with these deaths, the government has been left in a tight spot.

In their communication to the state government, the complainants have blamed the department of tribal development for the deaths in the tribal schools. When contacted, a tribal department official assured that they would prepare the necessary report and present it before the NHRC as well as the SHRC.

Ashram shalas cater to tribal children. Surveys and reports have time and again highlighted the poor living conditions in these schools, which lack even the basic infrastructure. The setting up of these schools was meant to improve the literacy rate and provide basic health care to the tribal children. However with these deaths, the objective behind setting up these schools has gone awry, Talpe said.

There are nearly 550 tribal ashram shalas, most of which lack toilets, drinking water and even beds and other basic infrastructure facilities.