Vulnerable children

As politics takes over in Palghar, there are only muddled theories about child deaths

Government departments responsible for tackling malnutrition have no data on deaths that might result from hunger.

Even as the National Human Right Commission sent a notice to the Maharashtra government amidst media reports of 600 children dying of malnutrition in Palghar district, the government’s ministries seem to be focussed on trading blame for these deaths.

The government has rejected claims that as many as 600 children might have died in the district. It has also rejected that the leading cause of these deaths might be malnutrition. News reports in the local press about the death of six-year-old malnourished boy Sagar Wagh led to opposition parties the questioning the government on the issue.

Malnutrition is a state where a person does not receive adequate calories and proteins which are required for growth. Malnourished children are more likely to contract infections compared to healthy children.

Contradictory records maintained by the state's Health and Family Welfare department and the Women and Child Development department indicate a lack of coordination and lack of clarity on why so many children are dying.

The Health and Family Welfare department registers show that 340 children died in the Palghar between April and August this year. The Women and Child Development minister, Pankaja Munde told media persons that 208 children have died in the district during the same period. Either death toll is appallingly high, especially given that Palghar, which is inhabited mostly by tribal communities and with a population of close to 30 lakh people, is only a hundred kilometers away from Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

Neither the health department nor the department of women and child development, which are responsible for tackling malnutrition, keep any data on the deaths that can be attributed to malnutrition.

15% rise in child deaths

If the health department had studied its own data it would have found that Palghar has seen an increase in child deaths over the last two years. Between the last two fiscal years, the district witnessed a 15% increase in both the numbers of deaths of infants younger than the age of one and of children between the ages of one and five. The recorded causes of death range from prematurity, low birth weight, and asphyxia in which the body is deprived of oxygen.

In 2014-2015, 623 children of age five and below died in the district and 721 children died in 2015-2016. Apart from Palghar, seven other district in Maharashtra have shown a rise in infant and child mortality.

Officials from the health department however said that the rise in deaths could be a result of better reporting and does not necessarily mean that more children are dying.

"If that's the case, the reporting should have got better in other districts too," said a doctor working closely with the government on issues of child health.

Malnutrition? Nobody knows

The state health minister Dr Deepak Sawant at a press conference last week insisted that the children did not die of malnutrition. “Sagar Wagh died of tuberculosis and Ishwar Sabra who was admitted to our child treatment center was discharged against medical advice by his family,” said Sawant.

Wagh died at the Nashik Civil Hospital while Sabra died at his home. Both children were malnourished, according to local non-profit.

When asked for an estimate of child deaths due to malnutrition, Vinita Vaid-Singal, Maharashtra's commissioner of the Integrated Child Development Scheme that aims to tackle malnutrition, said that she would have to consult her records. But she also said that there were no records of how many of the 208 dead children had been malnourished. “This is a new district but we are already ready with a plan to tackle the issue,” she said.

Vaid-Singal said that the deaths recorded under the schemes are not all associated with malnutrition. “Some children have congenital anomaly and some die of snake bite, malnutrition has nothing to do with these deaths,” she said. However, she did concede that severely malnourished children are at nine times the risk of contracting infections.

While the health minister has denied that the deaths have been due to malnutrition additional director of health services Dr Archana Patil said that her department will start collecting data to understand how many of the children were malnourished at the time of their death.

“Malnutrition is an associated factor," said Patil. "We are seeing that children born with low weight are succumbing for which we are focusing on improving the pregnant woman’s health.”

To better the health of mothers, the tribal welfare department had initiated the Amrut Aahar Scheme under which a pregnant woman in her third trimester is given nutritious food. The scheme, however, was not implemented properly in Palghar which irked both locals and non-profits working in the area.

According to Vivek Pandit from Sharamjivi Sangathna, a non-profit working in Palghar, the closure of the village child development centres run by the state health department triggered the deaths. “These centers were helping children to gain weight and improve their health protecting them from infections,” said Pandit.

Health officials said that budget cuts led to the closure of these centers in August last year.

Political circus in Palghar

Maharashtra’s tribal minister, Vishnu Savara on his visit to the family of six-year-old Sagar Wagh who died recently reportedly said “let it be” as a response to the deaths, a remarkthat caused uprar and which he later denied.

Then when Women and Child Development Minister Munde decided to visit Palghar, the district collector issued prohibitory orders disallowing the assembly of more than five persons within a radius of one kilometer in two villages. Munde received flak from the opposition parties following which the order was revoked.

In fact, Maharashtra governor C Vidyasagar Rao called for coordinated efforts from various departments to address the issue of malnutrition effectively.

“The entire issue has been politicised,” said Sunanda Patwardhan, chief secretary of the Pragati Pratishtan, a non-profit working in Palghar. Patwardhan believes that poorly educated parents among tribal communities in Palghar are ill-equipped to care for their children.

Another challenge comes from the lack of attendants for young children, according to said Sunil Bhat, president of a non-profit working in tribal areas. “Both parents go to the field and children are left at home to fend for themselves which leaves them hungry and ill all the time,” he said.

Patil pointed out that because of the migration, the families shift to neighboring states for a considerable period making it difficult for the healthcare staff of Maharashtra to monitor their health progress.

Others claimed that food habits among tribal communities contributed to their undernourishment. "They don’t have proteins in their diet," said an official with the Intergrated Child Development Scheme. "What we provide is supplementary nutrition and not food at our aanganwadis."

“There is a need to ensure that they get employed and paid enough for them to fill the stomachs of their families and children,” he added.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.