"Regrettable State of Affairs": Bombay HC slams State Mental Health Authority for non-functionality, issues directions
Mumbai: Taking cognizance of the "regrettable state of affairs" at the State Mental Health Authority, the Bombay High Court has recently issued directions for proper implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 in the State of Maharashtra.Highlighting the gravity of the duties imposed upon SMHA and the State, the HC bench comprising Justices Nitin Jamdar and Gauri Godse has issued...
Mumbai: Taking cognizance of the "regrettable state of affairs" at the State Mental Health Authority, the Bombay High Court has recently issued directions for proper implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 in the State of Maharashtra.
Highlighting the gravity of the duties imposed upon SMHA and the State, the HC bench comprising Justices Nitin Jamdar and Gauri Godse has issued the following directions to the Chief Executive Officer of SMHA:
"(a) Place the details of the State Mental Health Authority Fund as to when it was created, what is the sum available in the Fund and whether it is adequate for its functioning and performance of the Act.
(b) To prepare a proposal for a work programme as per Section 53(1)(c) of the Act.
(c) To prepare a statement of revenue and expenditure and the budget of the Authority as per Section 53 of the Act.
(d) To prepare a general report covering all activities of the Authorities in the previous year per Section 53 of the Act.
(e) To prepare the schedule of programmes of work and budget for the coming year for approval of the Authority per Section 53 of the Act.
(f) To prepare a report in terms of Rule 10 of the Rules of 2018 as per Form A appended."
"These reports shall be prepared by the Chief Executive Officer, and copies of which shall be placed on record of the Petition along with an affidavit of the Chief Executive Officer to be sworn personally," the bench mentioned in the order.
"The Chief Executive Officer shall, on affidavit shall also state whether the above-mentioned statutory Reports were prepared and submitted as per the Act and Rules since the constitution of the Authority and whether accounts were submitted, and the copies thereof be annexed," it further added.
These directions were issued by the High Court bench while it was considering a Public Interest Litigation highlighting serious issues of the non-implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 in the State of Maharashtra.
Medical Dialogues had earlier reported that previously the government pleader Manish Pabale had informed the Court that the authority was set up in 2018, but the tenure of some of its members had ended due to which there were some vacancies. Back then, the HC bench had directed the state government to give a time frame by which the authority would be made fully functional.
During the previous hearing of the case on August 23, 2022, the bench was informed that the State Mental Health Authority was not functioning and therefore the State had been directed to make the Authority functional.
On November 25, 2022, the counsel for the State informed the bench that the Authority had held a meeting on September 16 and even after two months the minutes were not ready. Therefore, the bench had directed for filing the copy of the minutes in advance.
After perusing the minutes of the meeting, the bench noted that the newly selected members were welcomed with flowers and merely five agenda points were discussed in the one and a half pages of minutes.
Referring to this, the bench observed, "...we had expected the Authority to deal with wider issues emerging from enforcing the Act of 2017. There is no reference to the same...Since this was the only meeting to be held this year after a long time, the manner in which the meeting was conducted, to use the mildest expression, is superficial."
The agendas discussed in the concerned meeting included Additional Chief Secretary giving directions to set up a proposal to the Social Justice Department for the discharge of indoor patients suffering from mental illness, arranging a meeting with the petitioners and others regarding issues of patients and the decision to open a bank account in the name of Maharashtra State Mental Health Authority.
"It could be concerning the Fund under Section 62 of the Act. It is not explained how this Authority works without a bank account or statutory Fund required for its functioning," the bench observed at this context.
The bench also discussed the duties bestowed upon the State Government under Chapter VI of the Mental Healthcare Act. Referring to this, the bench mentioned in the order, "We are not informed anything about these duties, the status and stages of the initiatives undertaken, if any."
As per the latest media report by Live Law, the PIL was filed by renowned psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty who alleged that in spite of Supreme Court orders, the Mental Healthcare Act was not being implemented properly. The bench further took note of the fact that the minutes of the meeting did not mention anything about the case of a woman who wrongly spent several years in a psychiatric hospital.
Further, the bench reiterated on Friday that the State authority was duty-bound to register all psychiatric health establishments under section 55 of the Act except those maintained online. Apart from this, the authority also had the responsibility for developing the quality and norms for mental health establishments in the State, supervise mental health establishments, and receive complaints about deficiencies, clarified the court.
"The minutes refer to none of this," the bench observed.
Therefore calling it a "regrettable state of affairs", the bench issued several directions to the State Mental Health Authority and the Government and further mentioned that
"The Secretary, Department of Public Health, State of Maharashtra, will also place on record details of tasks so performed by the appropriate Government as per the above-mentioned enactment since 2017. The Secretary will also place on record a proposal giving details of what steps the State Government intended to take in respect of the duties mentioned above with a timeline thereto. The Secretary will also place on record whether the State Government has called for a report from the Authority under Rule 10 of the Rules and details of the reports so submitted since the inception of the Authority. These details be placed on record by way of an affidavit sworn by the Secretary. If no statutory reports are submitted nor called for, an explanation thereto be given."
Directing both the State and SMHA to remain present in the court, the bench further mentioned in the order that
"As regards suggestions made by the learned counsel for the Petitioner in respect of the draft memorandum of understanding, the learned counsel for the Petitioner would indicate the same to the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, who will deal with this issue on the next date. The Chief Executive Officer will deal with the grievance that the case which gave rise to this Public Interest Litigation finds no reference in the minutes."
To read the order, click on the link below:
Barsha completed her MA from the University of Burdwan, West Bengal in 2018. Having a knack for Journalism she joined Medical Dialogues back in 2020. She mainly covers news about medico legal cases, NMC/DCI updates, medical education issues including the latest updates about medical and dental colleges in India. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.