Process of constituting State Mental Health Authority going on, Delhi govt assures HC

The Delhi government assured the high court on Friday that the process to constitute the State Mental Health Authority (SMHA) is going on and the matter is being actively pursued for expeditious action.

The lawyer for the Delhi government told a bench headed by Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma that the lieutenant governor has granted the due approval and the file has to be sent to the president through the home ministry for further sanction.

The court was hearing two petitions for the enforcement of the provisions of the mental health law, including the constitution of the SMHA.

Last month, the court had termed “unfortunate” the non-constitution of a permanent SHMA under the Mental Healthcare Act and sought the presence of the secretary (health) of the city government before it.

In a status report filed in the matter, the Delhi government requested that the personal appearance of the official be dispensed with and a time period of two months for the approval of the competent authority granted by the court.

“Secretary, H&FW, GNCTD, is actively pursuing the matter with the authorities concerned for expeditious action for approval of Competent Authority for constitution of SMHA. The H&FW Department, GNCTD has taken and shall take necessary steps expeditiously towards constitution of SMHA in accordance with the directions as per requirements of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and the Mental Healthcare (State Mental Health Authority) Rules, 2018 by pursuing the matter with MHA, GOI,” the government said.

“Hon’ble Lt Governor, Delhi has agreed to the proposal for constitution of SMHA and further directed that the proposal be referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India for seeking approval of Hon’ble President of India, in accordance with provisions under section 45D of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act, 2023,” it added.

The bench, also comprising Justice Sanjeev Narula, asked the government to file a fresh status report in the matter, while listing it for further hearing on November 28.

The court directed the Delhi government last month to “comply with all the other statutory provisions under the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and the Mental Healthcare (State Mental Health Authority) Rules, 2018, including constitution of district mental health authorities”.

Petitioner Amit Sahni, a lawyer, has said in his petition that the object of the Mental Healthcare Act is to provide mental healthcare and services to those suffering from mental illnesses and protect, promote and fulfil the rights of such people during the delivery of care and services.

He has sought a direction to the Delhi government to constitute the SMHA and district mental health review boards.

Another petitioner, Shreyus Sukhija, has also sought the constitution of the authority in accordance with the mandate of the law.

Sahni, in his plea, has asserted that section 73 of the Act mandates that an SMHA shall by notification constitute mental health review boards for a district or a group of districts.

However, even after the lapse of a considerable period of time, the Delhi government has failed to constitute an SMHA and the old authority, as formed under the previous Act of 1987, is being continued with as an interim measure, the petition 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 has said.

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

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

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

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