Maharashtra's Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Sawra sparked a row on 16 September with his comments on the malnutrition among the tribal children in Palghar.
Angry locals confronted the minister and demanded answers when he visited a tribal hamlet in Khoch village on 16 September in the worst-hit Mokhada sub-district. "600 children have died here (in 2016) what have you done for us?" he was asked.
"So what? The government is doing its work, implementing schemes," Sawra 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," she reportedly said.
Other villagers also joined the chorus and said there was no need for the minister to come, and Sawra arrogantly shot back: "If you don't want me to come, then I won't".
Sawra's comments were dubbed "insensitive" by the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and even ruling alliance partner Shiv Sena, with several leaders including Leader of Opposition (Congrss) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, demanding his resignation or dismissal from the cabinet.
Later, Sawra alleged that some activists of Shramjeevi Sanghatana, a local organisation, were instigating the tribals and that his comments were being "twisted out of context," even as videos of the encounter went viral on the social media.
The locals expressed their anger that 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 last month 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.
Governor CV Rao had directed three ministers - Minister for Women and Child Development Pankaja Munde, Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Sawra 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.