Mentally ill undertrials trapped for decades at Thane's Regional Mental Hospital

Jun 22, 2017, 09:30 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Undertrials in the prison ward of Regional Mental Hospital in Thane have been languishing there for decades neglected by the government and forgotten by family

Several undertrials have been locked behind the gates of the Thane mental hospital for decades. File pic
Several undertrials have been locked behind the gates of the Thane mental hospital for decades. File pic

Imagine being locked away for decades, neglected by the government and forgotten by your family. This is the fate of Raghu Patil, who was sent to the Regional Mental Hospital, Thane, after insanity drove him to murder his wife. Forty years later, Patil is still there, in the prison ward of the hospital, even though his trial was never completed. Long abandoned by his family members and with no legal recourse, Patil could very well languish there till the end of his days, unseen and unheard.

Patil is not the only one to suffer this fate. Dr S Raokande, Medical Superintendent (Regional) Thane Mental hospital, said, "We have around 14 undertrials in the prison ward, but we also have patients otherwise who are staying in the hospitals for over four decades."

Hope at last?
As per the new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, psychiatry patients can be kept in the mental hospital for not more than 120 days, and only on approval of the district mental health review committee. If an inmate's stay has to be extended, he or she must be produced before the district mental health review board, headed by an officer from judiciary.

Also read: Maharashtra has not implemented the Mental Healthcare Act yet

"It is unfortunate that Patil had to stay inside the prison cell of the hospital for such a long time. The right to be heard is the constitutional right of every citizen, but none of these patients were able to stand trial in court," said lawyer Lakshmi Ravindra.

Where will they go?
While the new Act will go a long way toward protecting the rights of these inmates, the question remains, where will they be sent after the 120-day period comes to an end? Former superintendent of the hospital, Dr Sanjay Kumavat, who was also the state's deputy director of mental health, who had handled Patil's case, said, "Patil is an example of a 'chronic paranoid schizophrenic', who are easily excited and can cause harm to themselves or to society. The challenge will be to tackle such cases with chronic mental problems. The new law states that such cases should be referred to rehabilitation homes and not be kept at mental hospitals."

Also read: Parliament passes Mental Healthcare bill

The need of the hour is to build such facilities where inmates can be provided vocational and rehabilitation training, to give them proper living conditions. The system lacks this currently, said Kumavat, adding that this is largely due to the fact that mental illness is still very much considered taboo.

Dr Sadhana Tayade, Joint Director, Health Services, Maharashtra, "We have cases in all four regional mental hospitals, where we have patients who have been staying for over four decades. We will have to follow up on the status of their trials. The implementation of the new Act will be a bit challenging without active participation from the judiciary, social welfare, NGO's and the hospital team, all coming together, rather than merely expecting the hospital to do everything."

They have rights
>> According to criminal lawyer Dinesh Tiwari, the Supreme Court had suggested that in case an undertrial completes the maximum possible sentence for the charge, they should be released on bail
>> Under section 436(A) of the Criminal Procedure Code, any undertrial who has completed half of the trial period behind bars is entitled for bail
>> Under the Indian Penal Code, a medically insane undertrial cannot be convicted for an offence

Trapped in limbo
Name: Raghu Patil
Charge: Murdering his wife 
Inmate since: 1975
Raghu Patil was arrested for killing his wife with a sickle in the fields. Since then, he has been housed in in special ward no. 8, also known as the prisoner's ward. The hospital's medical board found him unfit for discharge and rejected his case every time he was produced before them.

Name: Francis Pinto
Charge: Molestation
Inmate since: 1990
The Nagpada police brought Pinto to the hospital on December 19, 1990. In 1992, he was restricted to his ward after he forcefully kissed a female assistant medical officer, under the impression that she was his long lost love. Since then, he has been restricted with other undertrials.

Name: Rahul 
Charge: Unconfirmed
Inmate since: Unconfirmed
This patient has been an inmate for decades, but his real name is still unknown. His hearing and speech are both impaired, making communication a problem. "His health has improved a lot, but we could not discharge him, as he had no relatives. He was diagnosed with mild mental retardation," said sources from the hospital.

*Prisoners' names have been changed to protect their identity

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