New Delhi, July 6 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday directed the Centre to ensure that people lodged in mental health establishments are tested for COVID-19 and fully vaccinated at the earliest.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah took serious note of Maharashtra government's shifting patients lodged in mental health institutes to homes for beggars and asked it to discontinue the practice immediately saying it is counter-productive and runs against the provisions of Mental Health Act.
It noted that Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Divan, appearing for the Centre, has assured the Court that this matter (of vaccination) would be taken up with utmost priority.
“The Department of Social Justice shall take it up immediately with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare so that suitable instructions are given and a plan is chalked out for all the States/Union Territories for ensuring the vaccination of persons who are institutionalized in mental health establishments,” the bench said.
The onset of COVID-19 has precipitated the hardships faced by people facing mental illness in terms of access to medical care and treatment, it said.
The bench said it agreed with the submission of petitioner-advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal that the issue of testing, tracing and vaccinating those suffering from mental illness must be taken up on priority.
“Persons who are institutionalized in mental health establishments need to be vaccinated so as to protect them,” it said.
The bench also asked standing counsel for Maharashtra, Sachin Patil, to take instructions with regard to shifting of persons, who are institutionalized in mental health establishments to beggar homes/custodial institutions.
“While the Standing Counsel may do so, we are categorically of the view that any such action to shift such persons to ‘beggar homes’/custodial institutions would be counterproductive and contrary to the letter and spirit of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017. We accordingly direct the State of Maharashtra to look into this aspect immediately and ensure that this practice is discontinued,” it said.
The bench directed all states and UTs to extend cooperation in complying with the directions and said they ensure before the meeting that the discrepancies in the data, as noticed in the earlier order of this Court, are resolved and a status report on the implementation of the directions in regard to the establishment of Halfway Homes is filed.
“We are of the view that the progress in implementing the judgment of this Court and the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 has been tardy and it is time that the matter is taken up with utmost alacrity by the Union Government,” the bench said.
It directed all states/UTs through the Chief Secretaries to ensure that due representation is made at the meeting which is convened by the Union Government through the Department of Social Justice on July 12 and a status report is be filed before the court at least a week before the next date of listing.
The bench said that from now on it will monitor the case and would start listing the case after every three weeks so that progress is monitored as it is a very sensitive matter.
It listed the matter for further hearing on July 27.
Bansal's plea said that around 10,000 people who are fit to be discharged are forced to live in different mental hospitals across the country due to social stigma.
During the hearing, Divan stated that as a result of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, no progress could effectively be made and a letter has been addressed on July 5, by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to all states/UTs convening the meeting on July 12.
The bench said, “It’s a very serious matter. Many people who are cured may not be accepted by their families. Tell the concerned authorities to be serious and ensure that court’s order is complied with.” Divan said she understood the gravity of the situation as mental health has taken all together a new dimension during the COVID pandemic.
Bansal said he needed to point out two things that these people who are undergoing treatments at mental health establishments should be tested for COVID and completely vaccinated as they are most vulnerable section of the society.
He said that as per the status report submitted by Maharashtra government, they are sending the mentally ill patients lodged in mental health establishments to beggar homes.
'This practice needs to be immediately stopped as it defeats the very objective of mental health act and as per my information, two-three patients have died in the process,” Bansal said.
Divan said they have also pointed out to Maharashtra about this and have asked officials concerned to stop this practice.
On July 26, 2019, the top court had asked the Centre to explore the possibility for rehabilitation and reintegration of people who have recovered from mental illness and are fit to go home but are languishing in hospitals due to social stigma.
It had asked the Centre to submit a plan with regard to compliance of its 2017 verdict by which the court has asked all the States and UTs to rehabilitate those who have recovered from mental illness but are staying in the hospitals.
Earlier, the apex court had favoured framing of a uniform national policy to deal with those suffering from mental illness and their release from hospitals on being cured. PTI MNL ABA SJK SA