The Kerala High Court has directed the state government to set up a mental health establishment in at least one prison in the state to take care of mentally-ill prisoners. Justice V G Arun, in a August 13 judgment, said the state government should also constitute a Mental Health Review Board under Section 73 of the Mental Healthcare Act.
The order came in a case, taken up by the court on its own, on the plight of mentally ill remand prisoners being brought to the notice of the Chief Justice by a high court judge based on a newspaper report."The State Government shall forthwith set up a mental health establishment, as stipulated in Section 103(6) of the Mental Healthcare Act, in at least one prison in the State. The prisoners with mental illness shall ordinarily be referred to and cared for in the said mental health establishment," the court said.
The court also said that the Mental Health Review Boards shall ensure that prisoners with mental illness are allowed to live with dignity and treated as equal to persons with physical illness."The State Government shall, with the assistance of the KELSA, take necessary steps to trace the relatives of acquitted mentally ill prisoners and of the undertrial prisoners fit for rehabilitation and persuade their family members to provide necessary care and protection to those persons," the court said. It added that if the family members of the acquitted mentally ill persons refuse to take them back, the State Government shall take steps for their rehabilitation by transferring them to the willing registered mental health establishments. Once the mentally ill acquitted person is shifted to a mental health establishment, the amount fixed by state government shall be disbursed to that establishment.
The state government had earlier framed a scheme for rehabilitation of mentally ill prisoners continuing in Mental Health Centres after acquittal which provides for shifting such prisoners to Psycho-Social Rehabilitation Centres which had expressed willingness to look after such persons. The Government had also decided to sanction an amount of Rs.39,660 per year to such Psycho-Social Rehabilitation Centres.The newspaper report, which resulted in the court taking up the case on its own, had mentioned the case of a 72-year-old remand prisoner lodged in the Government Mental Healthcare Centre, Kuthiravattom for the last 49 years. He was remanded by the Sessions Court, Palakkad, on the trial against him being postponed for reason of his unsoundness of mind. The court in its order noted that KELSA had collected the information about the mentally ill remand prisoners. "As on August 10, 2020, there were 77 convicts/ remand prisoners undergoing treatment in Government Mental Health Centres in the State, of whom 22 are continuing after acquittal. Of the other 55 prisoners, 48 are undertrial prisoners and seven are convicts," the court said. Out of the 22 acquitted persons, 18 are fit for discharge and can be sent to rehabilitation centres and even from among the under trial prisoners, some are fit to be rehabilitated. The court also noted that the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure are yet to be amended in tune with the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. "For example, in most of the Sections of Chapter XXV of the Code, mentally ill accused are still termed as 'lunatic' and for mental health establishments the term used is lunatic asylum," it said. The court observed that not only the terminology, the procedure prescribed in Chapter XXV has to be amended, to make the provisions commensurate with the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act, so as to achieve the laudable objective of the Act, viz., to make improve the life and living standards of persons with mental illness.