District collectors must survey areas in Maharashtra where child marriage, malnutrition deaths are prevalent: Bombay HC

Mumbai, Mar 14 (PTI) The Bombay High Court on Monday said it will direct district collectors and magistrates across the state to survey and identify areas under their respective jurisdiction, where instances of child marriage were prevalent.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice M.S. Karnik said such a survey must also identify areas, particularly tribal pockets, which witnessed death of children due to malnutrition.

The bench was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations seeking the court’s intervention to prevent the death of tribals due to malnutrition and the “state’s apathy”.

The high court directed advocate Uday Warunjikar, the counsel for one of the petitioners, to submit in the court by Monday evening a list of districts that were prone to these issues.

“I have learnt from reliable sources that even now, girls are married off at a young age (in Maharashtra’s tribal belts). They are as young as 15 when they are married and they conceive early. It often leads to the death of both the mother and child. We must stop this practice,” Chief Justice Datta said.

“Whatever we spend will go down the drain unless we make them understand that 18 is the legal age of marriage; else, we can’t protect girl children,” he said.

Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the state was making constant efforts to sensitise the tribal population and to make healthcare more accessible.

“We are letting them preserve their traditions…not bringing them to flats. But, we are taking steps to ensure that there are no deaths in tribal areas due to malnutrition,” Kumbhakoni said.

The court, however, said while the state’s tribal population might have its own traditions, it was imperative that the tribals are sensitised about the law.

“They can have their own traditions, but they must be sensitised that the law is in their interest. Only then can we protect the girl child,” the court said.

“Let collectors and magistrates go to the identified areas in their districts and conduct a survey (to check for child marriages and children’s deaths due to malnutrition). You (Warunjikar) submit a list identifying the districts by evening and then we will pass an order,” it said.

Warunjikar claimed that child marriages were still prevalent in 16 districts of the state.