Maharashtra's Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Savara has landed himself in a soup after his casual response to a tragedy in which 600 tribal children perished due to malnutrition in Palghar.
Savara faced the ire of tribals whose children had perished when he visited a tribal hamlet in Khoch village in the worst-hit Mokhada sub-district on Thursday evening. Angry locals confronted the minister demanding answers and asked, "600 children have died here (in 2016) what have you done for us?"
"So what? The government is doing its work, implementing schemes...," Savara retorted, as some of the enraged villagers virtually asked him to 'get out'.
One grieving young tribal woman, whose two-year-old son died due to severe malnutrition late August, accosted the minister at the doorstep of her hut: "Where were you so long... My son died 15 days ago and you come now? You want to click pictures? We don't want to meet you. No need to come here."
Other villagers also joined the chorus and said there was no need for the minister to come, and Savara arrogantly shot back: "If you don't want me to come, then I won't."
Savara's comments were dubbed "insensitive" by the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and even ruling alliance partner Shiv Sena besides many others.
Several leaders, including Leader of Opposition in Assembly (Congress) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Leader of Opposition in Council (NCP) Dhananjay Munde, demanded his resignation or dismissal from the cabinet.
As the minister faced flak from various quarters, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asked him to give an explanation about his comments, even as video clips of Savara versus tribals went viral on social media.
Both Vikhe-Patil and Munde will visit Palghar this week to mollify the angry villagers.
Later, Savara alleged that some activists of Shramjeevi Sanghatana, a local organisation, were instigating the tribals and that his comments were being "twisted out of context".
Expressing their anger, the locals said though claims are made of huge funds being allocated for their welfare, they received no funds and had to even 'beg' for money to treat the child of the young tribal woman.
The child's condition suddenly worsened in August and he was rushed to a Nashik government hospital, but succumbed due to suspected malnutrition symptoms.
Stung by the villagers' aggressive attitude, the BJP leader who is also Guardian Minister for the district, beat a hasty retreat along with his motorcade from the village.
On September 14, Governor C.V. Rao had directed three ministers -- Minister for Women and Child Development Pankaja Munde, Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Savra and Minister for Public Health Deepak Sawant -- to take urgent remedial steps to tackle malnutrition not only in Palghar but in other parts of the state also.