Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has asked an NGO whether mental health patients discharged from hospitals after being cured are monitored when they return home. The NGO, Shraddha Rehabilitation Foundation, run by Magsaysay awardee Dr Bharat Vatwani, is tasked with reuniting cured patients from regional mental hospitals with their families.
A division bench of Justices Nitin Jamdar and Abhay Ahuja directed that the NGO be made a party to a public interest litigation (PIL) that urged implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.
Plight of patients languishing in mental hospitals
The PIL, filed by psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, highlighted the plight of patients languishing in mental hospitals despite being cured or even when they are not seriously mentally ill. The NGO has executed a memorandum of standing (MoU) with the state government for rehabilitation of cured patients.
During the hearing on Feb 24, Dr Shetty’s advocate Pranati Mehra informed the HC that the NGO helped reunite nine patients from Thane and 17 from Ratnagiri regional mental hospitals with their families between Dec 2022 and Feb 2023. One of these patients was reunited after 27 years.
Senior advocate JP Sen, who was appointed as amicus curiae to assist the court, stated that sending patients home from the hospital cannot be considered as the end of the problem. It has to be also seen whether they are properly assimilated and the NGO serves as a link, he said.
Are patients monitored?
The bench then asked whether the patients were being monitored. To this, Mehra said that the MoU does not mention the same. Sen added that the MoU talks about reuniting patients but not about monitoring.
The bench also enquired about the possibility of setting up half-way homes and group homes for patients who are abandoned by their families. It noted that such half-way homes “would be a critical component in the process of ultimate rehabilitation of patients; this is one aspect that needs to be taken up on priority basis, apart from registration of mental health establishments and professionals”.
Effective redressal forum need of the hour
Appearing for the Mental Health Authority – constituted in 2018 for the implementation of the Act – senior advocate Vishwajeet Sawant said they have called upon mental health establishments to register themselves. The judges said that an effective redressal forum needs to be created as the authority is expected to receive complaints about deficiencies in service of these establishments.
Advocate General Birendra Saraf suggested that the authority should have internal regulations to process complaints that can ultimately lead to de-registration of an errant mental health establishment.
The court noted in its order that the aspects highlighted should be taken up by the authority “on priority basis” and said that they expect progress on the matter by the next day of hearing on March 9.
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