HC seeks presence of Delhi govt health secretary over non-constitution of mental health authority

The Delhi High Court has sought the presence of Secretary (Health) of Delhi government before it over non-constitution of a State Mental Health Authority.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma said in spite of an assurance made last year, it was “unfortunate” that till date a permanent State Mental Health Authority under the Mental Health Act has not been constituted by the Delhi government.

In November 2022, the Delhi government had told the court that the process for reconstitution of the State Mental Health Authority as per the requirements of Sections 45 and 46 of the Act and its rules was underway and shall be finalised soon.

“This Court is left with no option, but to direct that the Secretary (Health), GNCTD, remain present in Court on the next date of hearing,” said the bench, also comprising Justice Sanjeev Narula, in an order passed last week.

“It is unfortunate that till date the permanent State Mental Health Authority under the aforementioned statute has not been constituted,” remarked the court.

The court clarified that in case the Authority is constituted, the personal appearance of the secretary shall be dispensed with.

Listing the matter for further hearing on September 15, the court directed the Delhi government to “comply with all the other statutory provisions under the Mental Health Act, 2017 and the Mental Healthcare (State Mental Health Authority) Rules, 2018 including constitution of District Mental Health Authorities”.

The court’s order came on two petitions for enforcement of provisions of the mental health law.

Petitioner Amit Sahni, an advocate, has said the object of the Mental Health Act is to provide mental healthcare and services to those with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of such people during delivery of care and services.

He has sought a direction to the Delhi government to constitute the State Mental health Authority and District Mental Health Review Boards.

Petitioner Shreyus Sukhija also sought constitution of the authority as per the mandate of the law.

Sahni, in his plea, has asserted that section 73 of the Act mandates that a State Mental Health Authority shall by notification constitute mental health review boards for a district or a group of districts under the new Act.

However, even after the lapse of a considerable period of time, the Delhi government has failed to constitute a State Mental Health Authority and the old authority, as constituted under the previous Act of 1987, is being continued as an interim measure, it has claimed.

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“Most people who experience mental health problems recover fully, or are able to live with and manage them, especially if they get appropriate treatment. Due to social stigma attached to mental ill-health, people with mental health problems can experience discrimination in all aspects of their lives,” the petition filed by Sahni has said.

For many, problems worsen because of the stigma and they face discrimination not only from society, but also from families, friends and employers, it added.

The plea has also said a person with mental illness is entitled to receive free legal services to exercise rights under the Act, but no programme has been started by the Delhi State Legal Service Authority (DSLSA).

A policy action plan needs to be chalked out by the DSLSA and sensitisation programme of magistrates, police officers and people in charge of custodial institutions conducted, it has added.

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