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Maharashtra: 2 mentally ill patients die at beggars’ home

As health officials wait for the postmortem report to find out the cause of death, officials at the mental hospital blamed poor living conditions in the beggars’ home.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: February 14, 2020 4:21:49 am
Maharashtra: 2 mentally ill patients die at beggars’ home At the Kolad beggars’ home.

Moved from Ratnagiri mental hospital to Kolad beggars’ home in Raigad district, 220 km away, two mentally ill patients, who had undergone treatment and were found “healthy and medically fit for discharge”, died within weeks of their transfer. As health officials wait for the postmortem report to find out the cause of death, officials at the mental hospital blamed poor living conditions in the beggars’ home.

Suryakant Badal (72) died hours after eating his afternoon meal on January 23. Staffers claimed he choked on his food, but a doctor at the home said his death was not caused directly from choking. A week later, on February 1, Siddharth Sawant (54) was found dead, lying on the floor. Both were said to be attached to each other. “After Badal’s death, Siddharth kept asking where was he. He stopped eating, withdrew himself,” a staffer told The Indian Express.

The two had been transferred to the beggars’ home on December 20, 2019, as part of a rehabilitation plan prepared by the Maharashtra government following a Supreme Court order. As many as 190 treated mentally ill patients, abandoned or their families untraceable, were shifted from four mental hospitals to government-run beggars’ homes, a former leprosy home, old age homes and female shelters.

Both Badal and Sawant were not willing to be transferred to the beggars’ home.

“They had run behind the hospital ambulance when it dropped them at the beggar’s home and drove away. They kept asking to be sent back,” said Aakanksha Raghav of NGO Banyan, who handled their case at Ratnagiri mental hospital.

The mental hospital’s deputy superintendent Dr Sanjay Kumar Kalkutgi, during his inspection, submitted a video of Kolad beggars’ home that showed a large ward where mentally ill patients lived with homeless beggars. There were no cots, the 10 inmates were made to sleep on the floor. The ward has an open bathroom and dilapidated toilets.

”The hospital in its report noted that the beggars’ home was unfit for these patients,” an official from the public health department said, adding, “but we had to follow government orders and discharge them from mental hospitals.”

Badal, who was admitted to Ratnagiri hospital in 1975 by Dapoli police, was treated for schizophrenia. He remained in hospital for 44 years after his family could not be traced. Sawant, a native of Sangameshwar, was admitted in 2008 for treatment of schizophrenia. “His relative had refused to accept him and his hospitalisation continued. After his death, they refused to take his body,” a Ratnagiri hospital official said.

“They were healthy and active in hospital. We don’t know how they suddenly died in the beggar’s home,” the official said. Sawant’s body was discovered late at night on the floor of the ward by a staffer. Days before his death, he had minimised his interaction with staffers. A staffer said Sawant also needed occupational therapy, but the post for therapist remains vacant in the beggar’s home.

Their bodies were first sent to Roha sub-district hospital and later referred to JJ hospital for postmortem. Forensic officials from JJ hospital said viscera samples have been sent for further analysis and final cause of death is awaited.

A psychiatrist in Raigad district said that on her visit to Kolad, she found the patients were not happy with their transfer.

The Kolad home suffers from infrastructure issues along with manpower shortage. Of 35 sanctioned posts, 28 remain vacant. “We have written to higher authorities to fill more posts and train staff to handle mentally ill patients. We are trying to procure cots for them. Some required a table and chair to eat, we even arranged for that,” Ashok Patil, the beggar’s home superintendent, said.

He added that several mentally ill patients need guidance in eating as they eat very fast. In Badal and Sawant’s case too they required a staffer’s supervision while eating. With lack of staff, individual supervision had become difficult.

Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has issued a notice to the Maharashtra government over the “illegal” transfer of patients to custodial institutions. KVS Rao, director of Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, said in the notice that the Maharashtra government had submitted a roadmap for rehabilitation of treated mentally ill patients languishing in mental hospitals. “The same has been filed before the Supreme Court,” the notice said, further directing the Maharashtra government to clarify its position on not following the roadmap.

Advocate Gaurav Bansal, who filed a public interest litigation for mentally ill patients in SC, said, “It is shocking that two persons have died. All the persons shifted to custodial institutions must be brought back. Government must construct half-way homes and rehabilitate these patients as per the SC order.”

Dinesh Waghmare, former secretary of social justice department, under whose tenure the Centre issued a notice, refused to comment.

Following the SC order, Delhi rehabilitated its 44 patients by setting up rehabilitation homes, petitioner Bansal said. In mid-2019, Maharashtra Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta took a decision to not construct rehabilitation homes. He instead passed an order to transfer these patients to existing government institutions — beggars’ homes, old age homes, women shelters and a former leprosy home. Officials say the huge financial cost of constructing new rehabilitation homes was the reason.

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