The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has recommended that the Tamil Nadu government direct all departments concerned to ensure that a separate ward is opened in mental hospitals/asylums to keep and treat mentally ill prisoners of all categories.

The government should again send the two circulars/guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of September 1996 and February 2000 on safeguarding the rights of mentally ill persons languishing in prisons, to all Superintendents of central prisons, the rights body said.

Justice A.S. Venkatachalamoorthy, Chairperson of the SHRC, made the suggestions while passing order in a matter relating to the death of a prisoner in October 2005. He recommended that the government pay Rs. 50,000 to the father of the dead prisoner.

The case relates to the death of Selvam Govindaraj (34), a life convict, who was lodged in the Central Prison, Vellore, in August 2005. He was admitted to Government Medical College Hospital, Vellore, on October 14, 2005 as advised by the prison medical officer.

Thereafter, the prison received a message from the RMO stating that the prisoner died the same day and it was a case of poisoning resulting in cardio-respiratory failure.

The Commission said there was no doubt that there was negligence on the part of the prison staff/officials concerned that resulted in a disinfectant or water mixed with it lay within the reach of the prisoner, who consumed it probably unnoticed by anybody.

Once the rights body came to the conclusion that the prisoner, in spite of his mental illness (acute psychosis – schizophrenia), had been kept in the prison during 2004-2005, it had to hold that it was nothing but clear violation of the NHRC instructions.

Mr. Justice Venkatachalamoorthy said he was of the view that the government should examine the matter carefully and, if necessary, direct an appropriate authority to conduct an enquiry by summoning everyone, including the then Superintendent, Central Prison, Vellore, K. Ramachandran, and an orderly at that time, Dakshinamoorthy (also a prisoner), since released from jail, and take action according to law.

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