Updated: September 13, 2021 11:42:01 pm
The Bombay High Court on Monday directed the Union and Maharashtra governments, and civic bodies to take steps for vaccinating mentally ill homeless persons who cannot make an informed decision and give their consent for vaccination as they could be a ‘threat to society’ in spreading Covid-19.
The court said that the authorities should frame a proper policy to vaccinate mentally ill homeless persons and asked them to inform it about the steps taken to locate and identify such needy persons and measures taken to reach out to inoculate them.
The state government, through an affidavit filed in July, this year, submitted that over 21,000 homeless persons were registered for vaccination and more than 8,000 urban homeless persons and 1,761 mentally ill persons were vaccinated. Shastri said instructions have been issued to authorities to address concerns of homeless and mentally ill persons.
The court also asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to file an affidavit stating the number of mentally ill persons identified for Covid-19 vaccination and vaccinated.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing public interest litigation (PIL) filed by actor T J Bhanu seeking reliefs for homeless persons including those suffering from mental illness for Covid-19 vaccination and post-inoculation care in line with central government guidelines and sought to formulate a special mechanism for such persons.
During the previous hearing, the HC had asked the central and state governments to reconsider standard operating procedures (SOPs) to vaccinate the ‘floating population’ of mentally ill homeless persons, beggars. The HC had suggested the state government consider having a permanent tattoo put on to identify such persons to inoculate them.
On Monday, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, representing the Central government, said that the concerns about an informed decision on behalf of mentally ill homeless persons can be dealt with by local authority by shifting them to shelter homes or concerned institutions which can certify them for vaccination.
Singh further said that as per Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 the police have the duty to identify mentally ill persons and take further steps to reunite them with their family members. He said that ‘near to home vaccination’ policy can be made applicable to mentally ill persons and a consent certificate is required to inoculate them.
The bench said, “If we do not choose to vaccinate mentally ill homeless people and if he or she is left to decide, he or she would be a threat to society. Why don’t you (Centre, state) come up with a policy or mechanism to vaccinate homeless mentally ill persons? If they are Covid-19 positive and cannot be identified, they might go on spreading (infection).”
The court said that ‘joint exercise’ by municipal corporations, police and the state health department is required to identify and locate mentally ill persons to inoculate them.
“If someone is mentally ill and staying with family, those family members will give consent and he won’t be at risk. The real risk is those mentally ill persons who are wandering in society with no family members being identified (to give consent for vaccination),” the court said.
Additional Government Pleader Geeta Shastri said that instructions have been issued to authorities to address concerns of homeless and mentally ill persons.
After hearing submissions, the bench noted that the state affidavit was ‘silent’ on those mentally ill persons who are homeless or wandering in the community and whether they are vaccinated. It said that the 1,761 mentally ill persons who were vaccinated may include those who stay with family and can get consent to get vaccinated and sought ‘better’ affidavits by the state and BMC.
Seeking responses from authorities, the HC posted further hearings after three weeks.
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