The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed serious concern over the alleged violations of human rights of women in mental health institutions like tonsuring of their head and lack of privacy and asked the Centre to immediately take up the issue with the States and Union Territories (UTs) to alleviate these problems. The top court also directed all the States and UTs to ensure time bound Covid-19 vaccination of all inmates lodged in mental health institutions along with health care workers and others.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and Hima Kohli noted that based on certain research studies conducted in 2016 by NIMHANS and National Commission for Women in 2020, it has been highlighted that women who are institutionalised in government run mental health establishments across the country face several indignities and violation of human rights.
The issues which have been flagged in the interlocutory application are of serious concern. We direct that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment shall strictly raise each of the concerns which have been expressed in the research studies and has been formulated with the States/UTs in the course of monthly monitoring that has been directed, the bench said.
The top court directed that necessary directions shall be issued for taking steps to ensure that the problems which have been highlighted in the study are alleviated by the state governments and UTs by taking necessary measures.
The bench took note of submission of advocate Gaurav Bansal, who has filed an interlocutory application, saying that three research studies conducted by an NGO Human Rights Watch in 2014, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in 2016 and National Commission for Women in 2020 have highlighted that women institutionalized in government run mental health establishments are facing several problems.
He said that they are facing problems like lack of Sanitary Napkins, lack of Privacy, tonsuring of head, lack of issuance of Identity Cards (like UIDAI / Aadhar Card ), lack of issuance of disability certificates and lack of issuance of disability pension. Bansal pointed out that women institutionalized in Mental Health Establishments (for treatment or rehabilitation purpose) are not allowed to keep their Children with them as there is no separate mother child ward in many of the government run mental health establishments.
The top court also noted that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has requested to all the States and UTs in pursuance of the orders of the court to ensure vaccination of mentally ill persons, who are lodged in mental health establishments against Covid-19 on a priority basis. In order to ensure, that these directions are complied with by all the States/UTs, we direct to lay down a time bound schedule for facilitating vaccination of all persons who are lodged in mental health care institutions, no later than within a period of one month from the date of receipt of this order, the bench said.
It said that a progress report shall be filed by every States/UTs with the department of social justice and empowerment of the union ministry on or before October 15, 2021 explaining the steps taken, the number of persons who are vaccinated against Covid-19 in the mental health care institutions. The bench said, the vaccination of inmates must also be coupled with vaccination of all the service providers as well as health care professionals, and other staffs associated with these institutions. It added that the progress shall be monitored by the Centre and details shall be submitted to this court, when a status report is next filed, in pursuance of the directions given in this order.
On July 6, the top court had directed the Centre to ensure that people lodged in mental health establishments are tested for Covid-19 and fully vaccinated at the earliest. It had taken 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 had noted Centre’s assurance that vaccination of inmates would be taken up with utmost priority. Bansal in his plea has 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.
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.