With just one attendant looking after 350 children at a Mankhurd home for mentally challenged children, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday said they had been left to God’s mercy. “How can one attendant be made responsible for 350 children who are mentally challenged? They have been left to God’s mercy,” said the court. According to the state government, 60 posts, including that of attendants and security personnel among others are vacant in children’s homes in Mumbai, including the one at Mankhurd. The homes are run by the Children’s Aid Society.
The state admitted that no rehabilitation was available for the mentally challenged children and adults living in the Mankhurd home. The petitioner’s lawyer, Nayana Pardeshi, said the oldest person in the Mankhurd home was a 76-years-old man. The court was informed about the conditions in the home after it questioned the state on its policy for rehabilitating the mentally challenged children living in the Mankhurd facility. “Most of them live in such homes all their lives. It is left to the Children’s Aid Society to look after them. After a certain age, their mental health deteriorates very fast. We cannot leave them in the open,” said the state government’s counsel.
There are 820 such homes across the state and a proposal to upgrade infrastructure in them has been pending with the social justice department, the government of Maharashtra, since April 2017. The court has now directed the principal secretary of the department to “process it and implement it”. “The social justice department should send a three-member team, which should include one woman officer, to inspect such children’s homes and submit a report in three weeks, which should include information on engaging essential staff on contractual basis,” said Justice Naresh Patil. The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by activist Sangeeta Punekar citing media reports based on the incident. A newspaper report said there was “champagne popping, showering of money on bar dancers and alcohol was served” at a party held in the home on December 31, 2012. The court also sought to know if routine check-ups were being carried out while questioning budgetary provisions for ensuring proper maintenance and upkeep of such homes.
The state admitted there were space constraints in homes. “The principal secretary of the social justice department should also look at providing additional structure for housing these children at a feasible location,” said the court.