FPJ Legal: Bombay HC asks Union, State govt to reconsider vaccination policy for homeless, mentally challenged persons

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni on Tuesday ordered the Maharashtra as well as the Union government to reconsider their standard operating procedure (SOP) to vaccinate the 'floating population' of sadhus, saints, beggars, homeless etc. The bench said the authorities will have to ensure that the SOP covers even the mentally challenged citizens, who are not in a position to give an informed consent for vaccination.

The bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed through advocate Sarosh Bharucha seeking vaccination of the homeless and also the citizens with mental illness.

On Tuesday, Bharucha pointed out that the state has filed a two-page affidavit in the matter but the same was not taking care of the prayers made in the PIL.

"The affidavit states that the homeless citizens will have to register themselves. How can the government expect homeless persons to register? This is seriously unsatisfactory," Justice Kulkarni opined.

At this, additional government pleader Geeta Shastri submitted that the state has issued an SOP for vaccinating the saints, homeless etc. She further pointed out that the state has decided to follow the Mental Health Act, 2017, which allows vaccinating people with mental illness after their relatives or caregivers give the consent.

Accordingly, Bharucha pointed out that the law provided nomination of caregivers through civic authorities and they can then give consent for vaccines. However, Justice Kulkarni sought to know how state and central government authorities would deal with a person, who is both homeless as well as mentally challenged.

"Go and have a walk across the city or at Marine Drive alone. You will find so many people wandering on the street. They feed on leftovers. They could be potential spreaders, as they are wandering across the city or even state," Justice Kulkarni said.

"We are a very complex society. We need to take care of each and every one," the judge added. The bench accordingly ordered the BMC to submit a ward wise data on how many homeless persons were taken care of during the pandemic.

"If you don't give the data we will say that you have failed to take care of such citizens," the judges observed, adding, "State must keep a complete check of such people in it's policy. Even the national policy should cover them."

The judges further pointed out that there might be instances wherein such homeless and mentally ill persons, would be at Dadar in the morning and might be in Virar by evening.

"You (authorities) go to the CSMT station during the evening, you will come across so many persons lurking there. They come here for jobs but end up on the streets. Thus, this is a very deeper issue. You need to study the entire issue with the help of institutes like TISS," Justice Kulkarni opined.

The judge further added, "Look at the footpaths near all stations. They are full at night. Who are these people? No one knows of them. We are seeing all this from years altogether. This is a larger issue. These people need to be vaccinated if not it would be a dangerous situation not only for them but even for others." The judges accordingly ordered the authorities to reconsider their SOPs and issue fresh ones to cover these categories of the citizens.

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