Lt. Governor VK Saxena has given his approval for the establishment of the State Mental Health Authority (SMHA), citing a significant delay of approximately five years on the part of the Delhi government in forming the panel for it, according to officials at the LG office who made this announcement on Monday.
The delay in constituting the SMHA has been a point of concern, particularly in light of the GNCTD Amendment Act currently in effect. The LG has expressed his desire to recommend members at his discretion, and this is the primary reason behind his dissatisfaction with the lack of nominations of experts as members of the Authority, as stated by Delhi Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj in a statement.
The Central Mental Health Care Act of 2017 mandates the establishment of the State Mental Health Authority (SMHA) to ensure the well-being of individuals with mental illnesses. The Act also stipulates that the authority should include independent domain experts, patient representatives, caregivers, and NGOs, in addition to ex-officio government members.
“Delhi is still without its SMHA. Under pressure from the Central government, the Delhi government has finally submitted a proposal to establish the Delhi SMHA after a delay of five years, but with only ex-officio members,” officials have noted.
In approving the proposal, the LG criticized the government’s lack of action in the matter and directed it to immediately initiate the process of appointing independent domain experts, patient representatives, caregivers, and NGOs to the authority.
In his remarks on the file for SMHA approval, the LG pointed out that the authority should have been established within nine months of the enactment of the Mental Health Care Act of 2017 with the President’s approval.
According to the LG’s office, the Act specifies that the SMHA should include an independent and distinguished psychiatrist, a mental health professional, a psychiatrist social worker, a clinical psychologist, and a mental health nurse, all with at least 15 years of experience. Additionally, there should be two representatives each of patients, caregivers, and NGOs.
This comprehensive representation in the SMHA is intended to ensure that it functions as a dynamic body rather than just another bureaucratic regulator, as stated in the file note.
“In light of the above, it is surprising that the proposal for the formation of SMHA, which is more than five years overdue since the enactment of the Act in 2017, has only now been submitted, and that too, with only ex-officio members,” the LG noted on the file.
The LG expressed deep concern over the Health department’s cavalier approach in establishing such a crucial statutory authority, calling it “deeply disconcerting.”
The proposal for SMHA received approval from Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj before being submitted for the LG’s approval.
The LG also expressed his dismay at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s communication dated August 29, 2022, which prompted the Delhi government to take action in establishing the SMHA.
Even after this, the Delhi government failed to expedite the legally required action, and the proposal remained pending with the Health Minister for nearly four and a half months, according to the LG.
“I am compelled to highlight this lackadaisical attitude and expect that the Chief Minister will take appropriate measures to address such concerns in the future,” he stated in the file note.
While granting approval to the proposal, the LG specified that the Delhi government’s Health department must refer it to the Ministry of Home Affairs for the President of India’s approval in accordance with the provisions outlined in Section 45D of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act of 2023.
The SMHA is tasked with a crucial role in the registration, supervision, and enhancement of quality care and services, along with establishing standards for mental health facilities within the state.
Furthermore, according to the Act, the authority is responsible for registering clinical psychologists, mental health nurses, and psychiatric social workers as mental health professionals within the state.
In response, Health Minister Saurabh Bhardwaj questioned the LG’s commitment to citizens’ health and urged him to take action against officials responsible for discontinuing computerized OPD counters in government hospitals and for conspiring to halt free laboratory services for underprivileged patients.
He also raised concerns about the delayed notification of nominated members to the Pharmacy Council in May 2023. Bhardwaj claimed that the notification file was sent to the LG on May 16, 2023, but was returned by the LG’s office with instructions to notify only elected members, while experts should not be nominated at this time.
(With PTI inputs)