Wednesday, April 19, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Crazed convicts scare hospital
From Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

AMRITSAR, April 18 — At least 40 undertrials and convicts in the local high security jail have been found to be mentally sick or “deranged” as per a preliminary survey.

The jail superintendent, Mr Jagjit Singh, in a letter to Civil Surgeon, a copy of which was sent to the Medical Superintendent, Mental Hospital, has urged that a medical board be constituted to examine the inmates so that mental patients could be identified. There are about 1800 undertrials and convicts, including foreigners, in the jail. As per the directions of the Supreme Court no deranged person can be kept in jail.

The Superintendent of the Central Jail Ferozepore has already shifted as 10 undertrials & convicts to the Dr Vidya Sagar Mental Hospital. Similarly the jail superintendent Ambala (Haryana) has also written an official letter to the medical superintendent of the mental hospital for admission of nine prisoners.

There is no enough space to accommodate more patients especially criminals at the mental hospital but it is expected to receive more than 100 prisoners from Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and the union territory of Chandigarh in the near future. Dr V.K. Khurana, medical superintendent mental hospital, confirmed that he has been receiving letters from different states for admitting mentally sick patients. He, however, said that it would be difficult to provide foolproof security at the hospital as warders of the hospital were not properly trained for the purpose. He said that at present there were as many as 29 undertrials and convicts already admitted in the hospital. They have been housed in a special open barrack. At the most ten more prisoners can be accommodated in this barrack, he said.

They say it is hard to house criminal as the houses boundary walls are low and can be scaled even by children. The mental hospital’s present financial crunch also likely to worsen.

It may be mentioned here that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has directed state governments to ensure that no mentally ill person is kept in jail as this amounts to a violation of human rights. Mr J.S. Verma, chairperson NHRC, reportedly asked state governments to make proper arrangements for the treatment of the deranged at approved institutions. He said the NHRC had been receiving distressing reports from various states regarding the plight of mentally ill persons languishing in jails.

An official of the NHRC, during a visit to a central prison in the northeast found as many as 44 deranged persons lodged in the jail not receiving proper psychiatrist treatment not attention.

The Mental Health Act 1987 which came into force from April 1993 does not permit the lodging of mentally ill persons in jails. Earlier, in September 1996, Justice Ranganath Mishra, the then NHRC chairperson, had warned state governments that if the commission’s officer, during jail inspections detected the presence of mentally ill persons in prison, the commission would award compensation to such person’s families and direct the state government to recover the amount from jail officials responsible for the lapse.

The mental hospital authorities here said that being a camp jail for foreigners as well the Amritsar Central Jail would also be required to send mentally retarded Pakistani nationals who had been arrested on charges of espionage to the hospital where, given the absence, of proper security the presence of such criminals would be a nightmare for hospital authorities.

Jail break incidents are fairly common even in high security jails in India and it would be difficult for an ordinary hospital to provide proper supervision.

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