Take custody of boy with mental illness, provide treatment, Madras HC tells state

When the state fails, the high court, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, will direct for the duties to be discharged.
Stating that the state can be saddled with liability, the court said the state must act as the 'parens patriae' in case of mentally-ill people who lack family support.
Stating that the state can be saddled with liability, the court said the state must act as the 'parens patriae' in case of mentally-ill people who lack family support. (Representative image)

MADURAI: The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court directed the state health department authorities to take over the custody of a 20-year-old boy with mental illness, provide him with appropriate accommodation and lifelong medical care until he found fit to be discharged.

The directive was passed by Justice GR Swaminathan, based on a plea filed by one Gurunathan, who said that his son Lokesh behaves violently at times due to his serious mental issues (bipolar affective disorder, which is now episodic mania with psychotic symptoms). As Gurunathan is a daily wager, he requested the state government to take his son as an in-patient at a government healthcare institution or the Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital, to aid his recovery.

Stating that the state can be saddled with liability, the court said the state must act as the 'parens patriae' in case of mentally-ill people who lack family support.

When the state fails, the high court, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, will direct for the duties to be discharged.

The state is obliged to set up residential homes for the mentally-ill in every district and must financially support NGOs who have set up such shelter homes. The court further said that it is up to the NGOs to decide whether to approach the state government for financial support.

If there are no NGOs, the state must provide complete infrastructural support. Every institution meant to house the mentally-ill must have a board of visitors, comprising not just bureaucrats of appropriate ranks, but also renowned psychiatrists and social workers. The visitors must be entitled to conduct surprise inspections and interview the inmates, and CCTV cameras must be installed. The in-charges of the institutions must ensure that the wardens and supervisors do not run amok, the high court stated.

"I would expect the state government to come up with appropriate policies and regulations, which is why I have suo moto impleaded the state Government in the case. I realise that these matters have financial implications, which is why I have not laid down any time frame,” the judge said.

The high court observed that the centre and state governments must ensure that the policies underlying the three major legislations — Sections 10 of the Mental Health Act, 2017, 49 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, 44 of the National Trust for Welfare of Person with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 —are implemented in letter and spirit.

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