The Supreme Court while hearing a plea on seeking rehabilitation and vaccination of patients in mental health institutions expressed concern over issues faced by women in such facilities. The court directed the central government to address these issues with state governments and carry out monthly monitoring of progress.
The plea was filed by advocate Gaurav Bansal, in which he said some 10,000 people who are fit to be discharged are forced to live in different mental hospitals across the country and institutes due to social stigma.
The plea demanded that they should be tested for Covid and completely vaccinated as they are among the most vulnerable sections of society.
"In many of these mental health homes, women's heads are tonsured forcefully and they face several other issues like difficulty in accessing sanitary pads," Mr Bansal told the Supreme Court. He cited a NIMHANS research study of 2016 and a NCW research of 2020 that highlighted women in mental health institutions are treated with indignity.
A three-judge bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath and Hima Kohli was hearing the matter. Justice Chandrachud said, "These issues are of serious concern and necessary directions should be issued to ensure that these problems are alleviated."
The Supreme Court directed time-bound vaccination of all inmates in mental health institutions and told all states to lay down a schedule to vaccinate people in mental health homes.
States should submit this plan in a month. The Supreme Court directed establishment of rehab homes for people with mental illnesses in the next six months. The court said all states should open a website with details of rehab homes for the mentally challenged. These websites should be set up within four weeks and need to be updated real-time. The portals should show details of region wise distribution and occupancy.
"This is a significant order by the Supreme Court. So far, things have been moving at a snail's pace. But this decision will take things in the right direction. It will make state governments more accountable and will bring clarity on what goes inside mental health homes," Mr Bansal told NDTV.
"Otherwise, they function in a very opaque manner. Women's heads are tonsured at these institutions by saying that it is being done to prevent lice but now it has become a habit and women are treated in an undignified manner. Often, women with mental illnesses are completely separated from their children at these care homes. But this goes against the rules. The Supreme Court order will ensure that the government acts urgently," he said.
"Mere re-designation of old-age homes or shifting these people to beggar homes do not solve the purpose. It is then only lip service. Establish proper rehab homes," the Supreme Court also said, criticising the Maharashtra government.
The Supreme Court had objected to the practice of the Maharashtra government to shift these patients to beggar homes as violative of the Mental Health Act. It had also criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for re-designating old-age homes as rehab homes for mentally challenged, instead of establishing separate institutions for them.