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..what angry flood victims told the touring ministerial duo:
Asim Dasgupta
and
Buddhadeb Bhatta-
charya
?
Answer: 'MINISTERS!'
'STOP WASTING FUEL, HAND US THE MONEY'
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PREAMBLE
Today, especially in Bengal, there are many things going wrong. Many people believe it is because of the moribund bureaucracy - government, institutional, private ... whatever - that is responsible for the unacceptable state of affairs ...

Our Objectives:
The objective of 'Stop'n Look!' is simply to throw the searchlight on the problems created by those people who are thriving in an obsolete bureacratic system - at our expense. We will compile information from the media, as well as first-hand reports from our correspondents, that show how callous our elders have become.
You will be the ultimate judge of our succes.
Viva la vox populi!


Medical News Reports: Vol 1 (since 08/98)
Bloopers & Capers
If the article you wish to read has been archived (due to paucity of space), please contact us/mail to:sankalpatrust@hotmail.com
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01 Animals roam the corridors of N Bengal Medical College and Hospital ;The Sunday Statesman, October 4, 1998; page 4.
The North Bengal Medical College and Hospital is like an open zoo ... dogs goats, cows and pigs roam freely about the corridors, and even enter wards.
02 Gastro takes a toll on hygiene-callous Malda: The Statesman, October 6, 1998; front page.
Gastro-enteritis has "gone out of control" in Malda, says the district administration...
03 Malda helpless before gastro onslaught: The Statesman, October 7, 1998; front page.
The village of Char Shujapur exemplifies the districts post-flood problem. Though only 40 km from Malda Town, it cannot be reached by car. One must walk about 5 km and then wade through the knee-deep Mandai River, which had to be crossed by boat during the flood. No medical team has come to the village till now. During the flood, block-level officials used the shortage of boats as an excuse to avoid the village ... Meanwhile, at Satangpara, the reporter saw two patients returning in the hand-pulled rickshaw reserved for "hospital duty", having been denied treatment; all they were given was a prescription bearing the names of two anti-diarrhoeal drugs. No medicine was given to them - not even the oral dehydration solution. At Chakseherdi, one Alaton Bibi lay senseless on the mud verandah at her home ... even her husband Mr Quasem Ali being the local CPI-M leader failed to help her. The incidence of diseases rose sharply in Malda after outstation doctors were pulled out. Writers' Building finally sent a team of two doctors, 4 paramedics and 10 nurses who will reach Malda tomorrow ...
04 Gastro death figures may be incorrect: The Statesman, October 8, 1998, front page.
The state government may fail to establish exactly how many deaths in flood-ravaged Malda were actually caused by gastro-enteritis and not pneumonia or snake-bites.
05 Malda gastro toll 262: The Statesman, October 11, 1998, page 7.
The gastro-enteritis death toll in Malda went up to 262 today. The worst affected are Manikchak, Gajol and Harishchandrapur - II. 130 gastro-enteritis patients are under treatment at Malda Sadar Hospital, and 200 admitted to the Balurghat District Hospital ...
06 Diarrhoea kills 61 in N Bengal: The Statesman, October 12, 1998, page 2.
61 people have so far died of diarrhoea and more than 7,000 people have now been infected with the disease. Unofficially, the death toll has crossed 100. The district medical officer, Dr Mrinal Kanti Ghosh said that the dearth of qualified doctors is the main reason why people are dying of such a simple disease. Patients are not sent to the hospital and health centers on time.
07 Drug shortage stalls anti-malaria drive: The Statesman, October 13, 1998, page 4.
An acute shortage of Chloroquine is hampering the state government's anti-malarial drive and that the CMC's drives to identify larvae-breeding spots at construction sites and other buildings were ineffective.
08 Govt. warning on clinical waste disposal: The Statesman, October 17, 1998, page 3.
The health department has published a report which says that barring the CMC, all other civic bodies are dumping clinical wastes with other solid wastes, since most civic bodies have no solid waste management schemes in operation. The number of private clinics and pathological laboratories have gone up in several municipal towns like Siliguri, Malda, Murshidabad and Asansol, who have to initiate clinical waste management schemes, as offloading clinical wastes with solid waste have increased health hazards. Also, most dumpings are situated in congested areas. For example, garbage is dumped along VIP Road between the Airport and Kestopur..
09 HMC uncaring, says diarrhoea patients: The Statesman, October 18, 1998, page 3.
Even as diarrhoea continues to ravage Howrah Town, the patients allege that the officials of Howrah Municipal Corporation are yet to visit the affected areas and take stock of situation.
10 Baruipur Rash Mela a health hazard: Residents urge minister to close fair: The Statesman, November 5, 1998, page unknown.
residents of Baruipur Municipality Ward 6 have protested against the annual "Rash Mela" at the local Raychaudhury Estate, and have urged the state environment minister, Mr Manab Mukherjee to close the fair.
11 Cough up thousands, get a place on the hospital floor : The Statesman, November 10, 1998; page 5.
Reports the travails of a poor man who spent all his money getting his ailing father admitted to the "floor" of SSKM Hospital by paying touts, and not having any money left to pay for medicines ... his father ultimately passed away.
12 No awareness in state; The Statesman, December 1, 1998.
"Ignorance is bliss". This is probably why the state government has not made any effort to find out the frequency of HIV prevalence among pregnant women, perhaps because the government was afraid to have the number of HIV-affected on record.
13 Protest against CMC failure to curb malaria: The Statesman, dated December 10, 1998.
Student activists affiliated to the Trinamul Congress demonstrated outside the mayor's chamber protesting against the Calcutta Municipal Corporation's failure in combatting malignant malaria, as the number of deaths have shot up to 100 and the corporation is doing nothing, they alleged. Mr Prasanta Chatterjee, however, said till date the figure is 29. Refuting allegations on CMC's apathy, he said necessary steps have been taken which include setting up of blood testing centres, distribution of medicines and spraying insecticides on the possible breeding grounds of mosquitoes.
14 Sharp fall in female-male ratio: The Statesman, December 12, 1998.
Reports that a recent survey by the Union welfare ministry shows that for every 1,000 males in the country, the number of females is 926. The figure was 937 a year ago; 972 in 1991.
15 Govt blamed for poor state of hospitals; The Statesman, dated December 10, 1998.
Reports that fifteen organisations of doctors and medical students in a statement today blamed the state government for the deteriorating conditions of state-run hospitals and the falling standards of education in medical and nursing institutions in West Bengal. The secretary of the Medical Service Centre, Dr Anup Maity, said the government had no right to raise hospital charges, given the present situation, and called for an immediate review of its health policy. He alleged that the government was recently thinking of handing over some of its health care units to the private sector without bothering about people’s interest. This showed that the state government was surrendering to the dictates of the World Bank, Dr Maity stated.
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Medical News Reports: Vol 1 (since 08/98)

01. Animals roam the corridors of N Bengal Medical College and Hospital: The Sunday Statesman, October 4, 1998; page 4
NIRAJ LAMA
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

Gone to the dogs!
A view of a coridor in the hospital.

SILIGURI, Oct. 3. - A visit to the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital is more like one to an open zoo. Dogs, goats, cows and pigs roam freely about the corridors, and even enter wards. Stray dogs have virtually taken over the Female Ward No. 4. Some run about inside the ward; others sleep undisturbed under patients' beds. In the Male Medical Ward No. 2, kittens chase each other around beds. Dogs scamper in and out of the emergency ward. No one seems bothered.

Opposite the Gynaecological Operation Theatre lies piles of medical waste, rotting! A dreadful smell pervades the area. Toilets in the Female Medical Ward No. 4 are choked. A patient says she had to bribe a sweeper to get one cleaned. The entire ward reeks unbearably.

No patient complains about the veritable hell they come to ... in the hope of returning healthier. They are scared that they would be victimized - too scared to even reveal their names to this reporter. "We are poor people. Who will listen to us?" asks a patient's attendant. There is a helpless resignation to a fait accompli ... "Some of the staff don't behave well with us, but perhaps that is because so many come and go here everyday."

"What can we do about the smell?" asks a patient. "The fans help to some extent; and as long as we keep our food on the shelves, the dogs can't reach it." But she can't bear this situation much longer. "I don't want to stay here anymore. I will soon leave and go home."

A man whose grievously ill son was shifted recently from the TB ward, spoke of the rude behavior from nurses. "A dying person deserves some amount of consideration," he says. But he thought it wiser to not lodge a complaint - " ... they hold all the keys here."

Very few patients eat the hospital food. "It looks repulsive," they say.

The hospital seems to have no system of disposing medical waste. It is simply tossed out of windows, where clumps of medical gauzes hang by the edges. Nearly the whole compound is littered with waste of all kinds. 

The Ward Master wouldn't answer any questions. He wasn't authorized to speak to the press. Dr M K Banerjee, hospital superintendent, blames a Group D staff shortage for the state of affairs. "There are no gatemen or night guards in the hospital. General duty attendents are forced to man the gates," he says. The results are, of course, disastrous. Even pigs from nearby villages find their way into the hospital, says Dr Banerjee. The government has long been aware of the situation, the superintendent says. He wants armed guards for the hospital.

Shortage of sweepers has led to the appalling lack of hygiene in the hospital, Dr Banerjee said. The corridors used to be washed by casual labourers, but following a government order, they are no longer hired, he informs. The consequence hits the eyes and nose with force - corridors littered at many places with animal faeces.

What about the choked toilets? Dr Banerjee blames it on the "poor patients". They do not know how to use them, he explains. The hospital caters to patients from Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim besides all of North Bengal, putting it under severe strain. It is, aside from being understaffed, overburdened.

"There is a very high rate of admissions per day," the superintendent says. "Following the Supreme Court order, we cannot refuse any patent." More than a hundred new patients come in every day. There are only 569 beds in the hospital, but 850 patients are accomodated at a time. These "extras" lie on the floor ...

Resources, too, are allocated against the official figure of 569 beds. Extra expenditure has to be "managed" from within the given sum.

The hospitall had "opened" a drug de-addiction centre with Central funds some time back. It lies idle - awaiting state government efforts to provide the staff with which to run the unit. It's the same with the radio-therapy unit - no staff. The health minister had, in 1996, promised to appoint experts to run the unit, Dr Banerjee recollects. Two years later, no one has been sent.

The biggest hospital in North Bengal has only three ambulances. Two of them are of vintage 1976 make, and often prove troublesome.

"Does the ministry know of all this?"

"Yes," says Dr. Banerjee.

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02. Gastro takes a toll on hygiene-callous Malda: The Statesman, October 6, 1998; front page.
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

CALCUTTA, Oct. 5. - Gastro-enteritis has "gone out of control" in Malda, says the district administration. Some 13,000 people have been affected; hospitals and health centers are overflowing with patients. Two hundred and two have died. "The government will rush in a team of doctors and a truck-full of medicines tomorrow to combat the disease on a war footing," the district magistrate, Mr M V Rao, told The Statesman over the telephone today.

The situation took a grave turn about Thursday - Dashamai. Food consumed during Durga Puja is the culprit, suspects Mr Rao. "People have been eating small, inexpensive fish caught in stinking floodwater. It is easy to get infected with gastro-enteritis after that." Gastro-enteritis has been the inevitable consequence of floods in Malda. As the waters receded, incidence increased. There are very few doctors for the thousands affected. Many have stopped practising during the Pujas.

Mr Biren Maitra, agricultural minister and the local MLA, said he had found no doctors at the Masada primary health center. "Ten patients were being administered saline with one intravenous needle. It is the same way at other health centers in the district."

The district headquarters is no better off. As gastro-hit patients from all 15 blocks of Malda Town pour into Malda Sadar Hospital, doctors say they are desperately short of drugs and halogen tablets. On an average, 80 new cases are admitted everyday. The administration is helpless. "It is impossible for us to supply halogen tablets to everybody ..."

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04. Gastro death figures may be incorrect: The Statesman, October 8, 1998; front page
SUNANDO SARKAR
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

MALDA, Oct. 7.. - The state governemnt may ultimately fail to establish exactly how many deaths in flood-ravaged Malda were actually caused by gastro-enteritis and not pneumonia or snake-bites. The reason: many of the death certificates filled out by doctors at the Malda Sadar Hospital don't specify the cause of death. In several death certificates the cause is simply given as: "Cardi-Respiratory Failure".

Hospital staff, who file reports on the number of deathd, have no clue about the cause of "CRF". Hence their reports are based on incomplete information. And these reports form the substance of the press briefings fro Writers Buildings on gastro-deaths, everyday.

The hospital superintendent, Dr M L Das denied that his doctors were "irresponsible". They cannot file incomplete certificates, he said. However, when confronted with evidence, he admitted that the filing of statistical data "might not be fool-proof". He put the blame on the clerical staff ...

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07. Drug shortage stalls anti-malaria drive: The Statesman, October 13, 1998; page 4.
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE


People wait for their blood-test reports
at the School of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta on Monday.

There have been 19 malarial deaths in the state till October this year, according to offcial figures.

CALCUTTA, Oct.13. - An acute shortage of Chloroquine is hampering the state government's anti-malarial drive, Mr Partha Dey, health minister, said today. The government needs a minimum of 2.5 million tablets to sustain the drive. But there are only 0.9 million in stock. These are to be distributed to CMC clinics and state hospitals ...

Official figures show that till October this year, there have been 18 malarial deaths. But the unofficial estimates are much higher. In 1997, the official death toll was 40, but the unofficialfigure was over 100. Mr Tulsi Mukherjee said in his ward-81 alone, five persons had died of malignant malaria. But the authorities were refusing to acknowledge the deaths.

Mr Rajib Deb, councillor of Ward-63 said malaria was raging in Camac Street, Lord Sinha Road, Theatre Road and Park Street, especially in the multi-storied buildings. The CMC authorities had hardly taken any preventive steps in these areas.

Mr Javed Khan, councillor of ward 66, alleged that the CMC's drives to identify larvae-breeding spots at construction sites and other buildings were ineffective. In his area, 365 buildings were found to have mosquito larvae, yet no notices were served on them.

The Mayor, however, said malaria was on the rise because victims often do not complete the course of the prescribed medicines ... becoming carriers and spreading the disease

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09. HMC uncaring, say diarrhoea patients: The Statesman, October 19, 1998, page 3
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

Diarrhoea patients at Bangalpara, in Howrah, narrate their tale of woes.

HOWRAH, Oct. 18. - As diarrhoea continues to ravage Howrah Town, the patients allege that the officials of Howrah Municipal Corporation are yet to visit the affected areas and take stock of situation. One person died and about 250 people are suffering from diarrhoea over the past one week.

Mr Dilip Hazra, a resident of Bangalpara, said five members of his family, including his two-yewar old son, have been admitted to Howrah State General Hospital in a serious condition in the last four days ... No civic official, not even the local councillor, visited the hospital, Mr Hazra said. Only a few health workers under the Calcutta Urban Development Project and Indian Population Project had come to give oral rehydration solutions (ORS). Sheikh NAzrul of Kolonipara, whose 6-yar old son was down with diarrhoea, alleged that the health workers were not coming to give ORS to the residents in the affected areas. Mr Subhranghsu Bhattacharya, chairman of CMC said several cases of diarrhoea were reported in Bangalpara, carrie Road and Mollahpara.

Local people allege that water supplied from Padmapukur Water Treatment Plant was contaminated and snakes and worms were often found in it. Residents of Mollahpara, Heeralal Bannerjee Lane in Shibpur area said about 20 patients were admitted to the Howrah Hospital during the last few days. Some officials of the engineering department suspect that leakages in pipes could contaminate the water supply. According to an official, leakages in the pipe lines are not repaired regularly. The matter has been discussed in a meeting among the Chief Medical Officers of Howrah, health officers and other officials of the health and engineering departments of HMC after the disease had broken out in these area, the official added.

The civic body would also send samples of water from the affected areas to the public health laboratory at Convent Lane to test whether thare is contamination or not. They would also communicate the matter to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Disease, seeking their intervention.

The civic body had increased the quantity of chlorine in the treatment plant to purify the water, following the outbreak of the disease. Dr Ajit Mukherjee, health officer of the HMC, said that the health workers under the Calcutta Urban Development Project and Indian Population Project are regularly visiting the sites. ORS is also being distributed in every ward.

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10. Baruipur Rash Mela a health hazard: Residents urge minister to close fair ;The Statesman, November 5, 1998, page unknown
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

CALCUTTA, Nov. 5. - Some residents of Baruipur Municipality's Ward 6 have protested against the annual "Rash Mela" at the local Raychaudhury Estate. About 150 residents have complained to the state environment minister, Mr Manab Mukherjee, uirging him to close the mela, which - they claim - is an environmental hazard. The mela, which begins today, is held every year for a period of about 45 days. 

The residents allege that a circus, which also runs for 45 days, is organized inside the mela complex. The circus adds to the pollution, as there is no sanitation system for the circus' members and animals. There are no toilets for visitors to the fair, too. The people who run the stalls in the mela also relieve themselves in the open, the complaint said.

The residents want a proper sanitation system in the mela and adjoining areas. They alleged that the use of microphones by mela authorites violates the Pollution Control Board rules, adding that it disturbs students in the area.

The residents had urged the municipal authority and local administration to check sanitary arrangements before granting permission for the fair. They had also demanded the setting up of a committee for monitoring the mela. A senior district official said the mela had been granted permission for 30 days this year, and if the mela authorities want an extension, then the conditions will be reviewed by the administration. He said this year, permission was granted for holding the mela only after the organizers had given an undertaking to the local administration that they would follow PCB norms.

The complaint was referred to the WBPCB by the Environment Ministry, residents said.

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11. Cough up thousands, get a place on the hospital floor; The Statesman, November 10, 1998, page 5.
AJANTA CHAKRABORTY
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

CALCUTTA, Nov 9. - "Respected health minister, I brought my ailing father to SSKM Hospital at 8 pm on 8 July 1998. There were no beds. Suddenly a man appeared and said I could get one if I paid him Rs 2,500. We told him we were very poor. The man eventually agreed to accept Rs 1,700. We had some money and borrowed the rest. The tout got my father admitted - on a trolley - at 11 pm. He died the next day. We didn't have the money to buy medicines for him. I humbly request you to take steps so that no other poor man like me falls victim to a tout."

This is an excerpt from a letter by Debnath Palmai, a daily wage earner from Mahasaypur village, Midnapore. He sent the letter to the health minister, Mr Partha De, on 10 July 1998.

Here is an on-the-spot report on how touts operate at SSKM Hospital. Their forte is "trolley admissions" and "floor" admissions. Mr Manoranjan Majumdar (70) was lying on trolley - 8 of the Maxkenzie Ward in the medicine department on Saturday. He had had a heart attack last month and was admitted to Sambhunath Pandit Hospital. He was discharged on 29 October. Doctors there asked him to come for check-ups in the outpatients department. But Mr Majumdar thought he could do with some more indoor treatment. He came to SSKM Hospital last week and got himself admitted. "Why shouldn't I stay here?" he asked this reporter. "I paid somebody Rs 1,500."

Mr Majumdar is what doctors call a "cold patient" - he doesn't need emergency treatment. Dr D D  Chatterjee, surgeon superintendent of SSKM Hospital said: "The Supreme Court has ordered that no hospital can turn a patient back. But we have also been instructed to accept only moribund patients on trolleys and the floor." He said admissions of "cold patients" through touts deprived more serious patients. 

Only senior doctors on duty can sign in a patient. One of them had admitted Mr Majumdar. He had scribbled "care of Gopal" on the admission form. The staff at the ward said "Gopal" was a Group-"D" employee. It was learnt doctors often write an employee's name on the form to avoid complications. Nobody has ever tried to find out if the employee named exists, or if the patient is related to him.

A doctor at the gynaecology department said: "Anybody can sign as the doctor on duty. There is no way of verifying a signature."

Bala Devi, lying on the floor of Cable Ward, vaguely pointed to her stomach when asked about her ailment. "I have a pain here, so my husband got me admitted here through someone. We paid him Rs 2,000."

The rate goes up as the night progresses. "A junior doctor said," We know of a patient who got a place on the floor of the neurosurgery department after paying Rs 10,000." But why would someone spend so much money just to lie on the floor? Doctors say that a patient with a brain disase or a heart defect knows he can get a free check-up in a government hospital." A nursing home would be far more expensive," a doctor at the neurology department said.

"There is a myth thst SSKM offers the best treatment," said another. An intern said: "Only after admission do the patients realize that they can get very little help lying on the floor." Indeed! They cannot be given drips properly. A catheter cannot work on them properly.

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12. No awareness in state: The Statesman, December 1, 1998.
AJANTA CHAKRABORTY
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

CALCUTTA, Nov. 30. - Ignorance is bliss. This is probably why the state government has not made any effort to find out the frequency of HIV prevalence among pregnant women. Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, another of those occasions when the ministers and government officials will be quoting statistics, and expressing their concern over the rise in AIDS cases. They might also quote the recent World Health Organisation survey which says 1,600 children around the world are infected with HIV every day.

But figures notwithstanding, the awareness is lacking. Specially when this year's theme is "Young People: Force to Change".

Results of the WHO survey has forced several state governments to consider making HIV tests compulsory for pregnant women. Some governments have already ascertained the percentage of ante-natal HIV cases. The journal of the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India says places like Mumbai, Tirupati and Manipur have conducted random studies which reveal the rate of HIV infection (or seroprevalence) among pregnant women. In Mumbai the rate is 28 per cent, in Tirupati 2 per cent and in Manipur 26 per cent.

NGOs and researchers say Mumbai is already thinking of making HIV tests mandatory. Though there has been no directive from the Maharashtra government yet, women have started taking ante-natal HIV tests at private clinics.

A study undertaken between November 1995 and October 1997 in West Bengal showed that one among every 372 pregnant women in the state carried HIV. After this survey report was submitted, the state government ordered a research project in 1997 which was stopped abruptly for some unknown reason.

"Had the state government not terminated the project, we too could have had some idea about the need for HIV tests for pregnant women," says an official at the state AIDS cell. The project was initially started at the M R Bangur Hospital and at the NRS Medical College and Hospital. Later, the project was restricted only to the M R Bangur Hospital because it catered to women from the slums and red light areas.

Around Rs 1 lakh was allotted, and three doctors of the hospital - Dr Sanjib Mukherjee, a gynaecologist; Dr Tapas Chakraborty, attached to the Blood Bank, and Dr S N Maity, the then superintendent. The state health minister, Mr Partha De, acknowledged that the project had been started but is unable to say why it was terminated.

"Perhaps the government was afraid to have the number of HIV-affected on record. An HIV kit for carrying out one test costs Rs 80. It is not possible to buy it for the thousands of patients who flock to a government hospital", said a state AIDS cell official.

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14. Sharp fall in female-male ratio: The Statesman, December 12, 1998.
STATESMAN NEWS SERVICE

CALCUTTA, Dec. 11. - The female-male ratio in the country has fallen sharply in the past one year. A recent survey by the Union welfare ministry shows that for every 1,000 males in the country, the number of females is 926. The figure was 937 a year ago; 972 in 1991.

The survey says the main reasons are the rising rates of:

  1. abortion of the female foetus, and
  2. death of the under-15 girl child.
The number of female foetuses aborted has jumped 3.9 per cent in the past one year. Most of these happened in the villages. Yet, during the same period, abortions of male foetuses fell marginally.

The survey report says many clinics are flouting the ban on sex detection of foetuses. "The arrangement to check such malpractices, especially in rural India, is inadequate," it says. The past two years have seen a sharp rise in girl child deaths. "On an average now, every one Indian girl out of four dies before celebrating her 15th birthday."

And the number of malnourished girls is three times that of malnourished boys.

The number of missing girls between ages one and six touched 4 million in the past 10 years. The number of missing boys in the same age group during the same period is between 700,000 and 800,000. This could be another reason for the fall in the female-male ratio, the report says.

The proportion of educated women too has fallen in the past one year, it says.

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