March 3, 2021 10:07:57 pm
At a time when roughly one in seven Indians struggle with mental disorders of varying severity, as per a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, a classic case of mental health-related issues being kept on the back burner has emerged. The Maharashtra government is yet to appoint a full-time director at the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health (MIMH). The institute, which was designated as a ‘Centre of Excellence’ in the field of mental health by the Union government in 2011, is yet to utilise funds to the tune of Rs 20 crore.
Over the years, the additional charge of the institute, located at the premises of Sassoon General Hospital in Pune, has been managed by the subsequent heads of department (HoDs) of Psychiatry at BJ Medical College.
The in-charges are now finding it increasingly difficult to manage daily operations even as the institute is planning to begin a phase-wise shift to its new location at Pashan, nearly three decades after the project’s approval.
Set up in 1991 by the Government of Maharashtra, the institute was named as the State Training and Research Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (STRIMHANS) in a project under the leadership of Dr Mohan Agashe.
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Dr Agashe, then HoD of psychiatry at BJMC, was instrumental in the establishment of the institute. It was in 2011, during the directorship of Dr Alka Pawar, that the institute was recognised as a Centre of Excellence by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, and was to be developed along the lines of Bengaluru-based NIMHANS.
In 1993-94, approximately 35 acres of land at Pashan and Yerwada was initially approved for the MIMH campus to be shifted. A 250-bed hospital for persons diagnosed with mental health disorders was also proposed, where patients could opt for counselling, learn life skills and increase their productivity.
In 2009, then HoD of Psychiatry at BJMC, Dr Alka Pawar wrote a letter to the Centre and proposed the inclusion of more mental-health courses. In 2011, the institute received funds to the tune of Rs 30 crore.
However, administrative approval to use the Central government’s funds was given only in 2015 and construction activities for the OPD building commenced at the Pashan campus the following year.
Till date, authorities have not utilised funds amounting to Rs 20 crore, which includes the accumulation of interest at Rs 7 crore, Rs 3 crore for non-technical equipment and Rs 5 crore for technical equipment.
It also includes Rs 3 crore for faculty recruitment, as per the criteria laid down for the Centre of Excellence, which includes 16 faculty member-level posts, three professor-level posts and four assistant professor-level posts.
A high-powered committee had sanctioned filling up the posts in 2019, but another approval from the state Department of Medical Education in this regard is yet to be obtained.
Dr Ajay Chandanwale, joint director at the Directorate of Medical Education and Research, who presently has the additional charge as the director of MIMH, said that the institute’s infrastructure work has been completed.
“The work at the auditorium has to be completed. However, we have started courses like MPhil and MSc in nursing. We will first try to shift the teaching cadre. Till all works are completed, the administrative and clinical sections will continue to be located at the Sassoon Hospital premises. We are trying our best and doing all that we can to expedite the process,” Dr Ajay Chandanwale told The Indian Express.
Dr Niteen Abhivant, professor and current HoD of Psychiatry, BJMC and Sassoon General Hospital, who is also the chief administrative officer at MIMH, said that the institute’s aim has always been to produce well-trained personnel in fields of mental healthcare, such as psychiatry, clinical psychology, psychiatric social work and psychiatric nursing. He admitted that there was a need for a full-time director and dedicated leadership to achieve the institute’s goals.
Founder-director of MIMH, Dr Agashe, said that although the institute finally getting its own premises is a good development, he is “extremely unhappy with the way things have gone”.
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