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Tuesday, August 07, 2001

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Fire throws up disturbing questions

By Our Staff Reporter

RAMANATHAPURAM, AUG. 6. A pall of gloom has descended on Erwadi village 27 km from here following the death of 25 mentally ill persons in the fire mishap. The saint, Hazharat Qutub Syed Sultan Ibrahim Shaheed Oliyallah's tomb at the village is visited by people of all religions with a sense of veneration. Legend has it that the saint Badhusa has divine powers to cure incurable diseases, particularly mental illness.

There are 16 private homes consisting of 650 mentally-ill persons in and around the Erwadi durgha. Running homes for the mentally afflicted is a thriving business there. But the inmates were being tied to chains and kept in semi-illuminated and ill- ventilated small halls. A sum of Rs. 500 to 1,000 is being collected from the relatives or parents by the care-takers, but the inmates were not being given nutritious food. They have been put to hardship owing to the poor sanitation, malnutrition, lack of medical treatment, etc.

Though the `sorry state' of these homes has already been brought to the notice of the successive governments, they have failed to streamline their operation. Eight mentally retarded persons died due to diarrhoea between April 4 and 7, 2000. Poor hygiene and contaminated food provided to the inmates were stated to be the reasons for their death.

Last year the Government constituted an inspection committee under the chairmanship of the then Collector of Ramanathapuram to streamline the operation of these homes. But its recommendations are put in cold storage.

The committee recommended that the Government issue licence to these homes under the Disability Act 1995. It urged the Government to set up a screening committee for admitting only genuine cases. Psychiatric social workers, legal experts, revenue and police officials and representatives from various NGOs must keep vigil on these homes to avoid sexual exploitation as well as irregularities, suggested the members of the panel.

Since the managers of the homes are mostly illiterate, the M.S. Chellamuthu Trust, Madurai, which is a pioneer in dealing with the mentally disabled could be assigned the task of imparting technical knowledge to the managers. The committee submitted its recommendations on May 5, 2000 itself.

New plan

Mr. S. Vijaya Kumar, Collector, speaking to presspersons, said, the district administration decided to chalk out a plan to streamline and regularise these homes. A meeting would be held at the earliest to seek suggestions from experts of the health department. Police, revenue officials, district rehabilitation officer and representatives from various NGOs would also participate. Criminal action would be taken against those who ill-treated mentally ill persons at these homes. He announced that Rs. 15,000 would be given to the relatives or parents of the deceased under accident relief fund.

Mr. Balagurunathan, Joint Director for Health (in-charge), said a mental hospital would be started on the premises of the Government headquarters hospitals at Ramanathapuram by the end of the month. Two psychiatrists would be appointed, one at the proposed mental hospital and the other in the mobile team. The mobile team would be provided with para- medical staff and adequate medicines.

Moreover all medical officers of primary health centres would give training to identify the mentally affected persons and arrangements would also be made to give treatment in such centres with the help of these mobile teams. Moreover, if they needed any further treatment, they could get it in the district mental hospital, Mr. Balagurunathan, added.

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