Vaccinate inmates, staff of mental health facilities in a month, Supreme Court tells states
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the states and Union territories to vaccinate all inmates and staff of mental healthcare facilities against Covid-19 within a month and to set up a dashboard to provide information about rehabilitation homes set up for cured mentally ill patients within the same period.
Passing a slew of orders, the bench of Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and Hima Kohli said, “All states and UTs are directed to ensure time-bound schedule for vaccination of all persons lodged in mental health institutions and of service providers, health care workers and other staff, not later than one month from the receipt of this order. Progress report should be filed with the Union Ministry of Social Justices and Empowerment on or before October 15 explaining steps taken and the number of persons vaccinated for COVID.”
The order came on a contempt petition filed by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal, who accused states and UTs of flouting a July 10, 2017 order of the top court requiring states/UTs to establish half-way homes serving as rehabilitation facilities for mentally ill patients who have cured and who were overstaying at the government-run mental hospitals or facilities. On July 6, the top court in the same proceedings directed the Union government to chalk out a plan for vaccinating persons staying in mental health establishments on priority.
The court also went through status reports submitted by states and UTs on compliance of its July 2017 order. It said, “We do not find any genuine progress made in that context except different states have set timelines for setting up half-way homes.”
Uttar Pradesh, in its report, said the state has re-designated 75 old age homes as half-way homes and shifted 51 patients cured of mental illness to these homes. The bench said, “Merely designating 75 old homes as half-way homes will amount to mere lip service.”
The court also commented on the Maharashtra government’s decision to shift 186 cured patients overstaying at mental health institutions to beggar homes, old age homes and other custodial institutions. The bench directed such persons to be relocated in half-way homes by November 30.
The bench ordered, “Ultimate task of rehabilitation will not sub-serve by relocation alone.” The bench relied on guidelines issued by the Centre under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act requiring rehabilitation to be a two-step process of relocation and re-integration into society requiring half-way homes to cater medical, social, and psychological needs of inmates besides training in skills.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Madhavi Divan informed the court that progress made by states could be achieved by requiring each state/UT to create a dashboard providing details of these homes, their geographical location, facilities provided, intake capacity, and occupancy. This would not only bring in accountability in the long run but also provide the Centre access to information from states.
The bench accordingly directed the Centre to frame a Model Dashboard with the required inputs and circulate it to states/UTs to update information on real time basis within four weeks. The court also directed the Centre to monitor progress by state/UT governments on a monthly basis and file a status report before the court in the last week of December, when the matter is to be heard next.
The petitioner apprised the court of a report prepared by the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru in 2016 which highlighted deplorable conditions of living of women inmates in state-run mental health establishments. These included women inmates separated from their child, forceful tonsuring of heads, lack of privacy, lack of sanitary napkins, identity documents and non-issuance of disability certificate or pension to eligible inmates. Gaurav Kumar Bansal, the petitioner in this case, also presented the recommendations of National Commission for Women (NCW) made in 2020 in this regard and pleaded to the court to issue orders as these were clear violations of the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017.
The bench directed the Centre to take up these issues with the states/UTs in its monthly meetings and said, “The issues flagged are of serious concern…Necessary directions shall be issued for taking steps to ensure the problems highlighted are alleviated by concerned states/UTs by taking suitable steps.”