The Bombay High Court has taken a serious view of the discontinuation of the counsellor programme and the Child Treatment Centres in Melghat region and asked the government to show cause why it should not be required to open these centres established in 2008-09. The court directed the government to file an affidavit by October 22 and posted the hearing for October 25.

The court passed the order on October 16, while hearing a suo motu writ petition and said the issues need serious consideration.

According to figures submitted in court, in 2008-09 when there were 28 Child Treatment Centres, out of 271 children admitted to these centres, the condition of 199 children improved. However, on account of the number of centres going down in 2009-10 from 28 to 5, the number of children who got the benefit substantially reduced from 199 to 48.

Inhabited by the Korku adivasis, Melghat comprising Dharni and Chikhaldhara talukas in Amravati district has a high rate of malnutrition and child deaths and every year, 400 to 500 children below the age of six die due to various causes. In September 2010, 98 children died in Melghat — 79 deaths in Dharni and 19 in Chikhaldhara block.

The other issue pertains to the decision of the government to discontinue the counsellor programme. The district administration during 2006-2007 appointed 28 counsellors, 14 women and 14 men. They were local residents who knew the Korku language and aged between 18 and 35 years. The government contended that in view of the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) programme, there was duplication of efforts. The ASHA workers are also local women knowing Korku and in the age group of 21 to 35 years. Since they are able to motivate the adivasi women to go for institutional delivery, it was no longer necessary to continue counsellors who are being paid an honorarium of Rs. 2,500 per month.

However, the petitioners, including Purnima Upadhyay and others pointed out that in Melghat institutional delivery is hardly 15 per cent. The petitioners also submitted that the mortality rate in Dharni area is 90 per 1000 live births and in Melghat region it is 64 per 1000 live births as against the State average of 31.

The petitioners said the counsellors played a different role from that of the ASHA workers who only accompanied the expectant mothers to public health centres and left them after a few hours. The counsellors render services at the public health centres and at the hospitals in case the patients are required to be taken from the primary health centres to the taluka level hospitals or to the district hospitals, and travel with them. Even when the patients are accompanied by their relatives, due to language barriers and cultural barriers between tribals and non-tribals, patients as well as their relatives need counselling at the primary health centres. The counsellors also provide co-ordination services.

The Amravati Collector and chief executive officer of the zilla parishad submitted that the district administration received complaints against the counsellors and therefore they had thought it fit to replace them by making recruitments after issuing a public advertisement on February 4, 2010 and selections were made by holding a written test on April 18, 2010.

However, the petitioners pointed out that, out of 30 candidates selected by the district administration, as many as 28 were men and only two were women. As against that, the counsellors who were initially appointed in 2006-07, there were 14 women counsellors and in order to ensure that there were no security problems during night hours, an equal number of male counsellors, 14, were appointed.

The court took into account these arguments and has extended the ad interim relief granted in May on the issue of counsellors till the disposal of this petition. It ordered the continuation of the programme and extending it to other parts of the State as well.