Asha Kiran Home, Delhi

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Ambika Pandit, Asha Kiran has space for 500, houses 950, Feb 7, 2017: The Times of India

2015 CAG Audit Revealed Abysmal Condition Of Home For Mentally Challenged

Around 950 inmates--mentally challenged men, women and children--are left to fend for themselves at the Asha Kiran complex, which has space for only 510.The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had red-flagged this matter in a 2015 report, saying that the facility was “overburdened“, ill equipped for medical emergencies and short on staff. In fact, its capacity during the CAG review was even less--350--and was increased later though falling far short of what is required. The report said that a total of 148 deaths occurred during 2009-14. It also found “slackness on the part of the department towards decongestion of the Asha Kiran complex“. The latest findings of the Delhi Commission for Women came after a series of damning reports, which were submitted to the state government and courts over the decade by various panels as well as the CAG.

The 2015 CAG report on the “social, general and economic sectors (non-public sector undertakings) for the year ending on March 31, 2014“ pertains to the period before the AAP government came to power. However, it was made public in 2015 when AAP became the ruling party in Delhi.

It begins by pointing out that the department of social welfare is running four homes for the mentally challenged at Asha Kiran complex in Rohini.“The complex houses on average 970 inmates against its designed capacity of 350. In the backdrop of 57 deaths that occurred in the complex during 2009-10, a ministerial commit tee recommended (February 2010) immediate decongestion of these homes. A decision was taken in the chief minister's meeting (February 2011) to shift the inmates of the Asha Kiran Home to Beggars' Home at Lampur on urgent basis. But concrete steps were not taken by the department for decongestion of the complex,“ it said.

According to the audit report, just one ambulance for 24hour service and two patient carrying vehicles for office hours--that's all the facility had for 949 residents during 2013-14, out of which 469 were suffering from profound mental retardation. “Due to non-availability of ambulance, on 8,607 occasions, patientsinmates were carried to different hospitals by autorickshaws, cycle-rickshaws etc,“ the CAG noted in the report. Even now the facility lacks a health set-up to cater to the inmates here.

The CAG pointed out the non-availability of a dietician.Ajoint inspection report (October 2012) on Asha Kiran complex by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights revealed high prevalence of malnourishment and skin diseases among its inmates. “The governing council of the complex in its meeting (January 2013), discussed and decided that a nutritious diet to the inmates was important.“

The audit observed that despite these observations and decisions, there was no dietician available in the complex.

In 2009, TOI had reported that as many as 75 inmates died between 2004 and 2008 at Asha Kiran Complex, allegedly due to poor healthcare facilities.

1998: 5 deaths on single day

5 deaths on single day in 1998 brought it notoriety, Feb 7, 2017: The Times of India

“There can't be any worse kind of human rights violation,“ an angry Delhi high court bench had lashed out at the Delhi government in 2012, moved by the deplorable conditions in which mentally challenged inmates lived at Asha Kiran Home. “Are they cattle? You keep them like animals,“ the bench had lamented.

The alarming picture now drawn by Delhi Commission for Women shows that “gross violation of human rights“ is an ongoing horror story at the home, where the mentally challenged live in unhygienic conditions and women inmates walk without clothes in the corridors. Asha Kiran attracted judicial attention as early as 1998 when Juvenile Welfare Board took suo motu notice of five deaths on a single day at the facility run by Delhi government.

In an emotional observation, JWB chairman B S Gahlaut had pointed out how “it is a peculiar case where there is no petitioner visible and hence no respondents and only images of mentally retarded children are here before the board, staring at us as if they want to say something but mind being impaired (are) unable to do so. Therefore, it has become expedite and imperative for us to do justice to these images.“

After an inspection of the home, Gahlaut minced no words in taking the then state government to task. The visit, he wrote, left him feeling “humiliated that in free India, such exploitation of this magnitude is being perpetuated by no less a person than my own government who appointed me as chairman of JWB which should act as a guardian of all the neglected children in the city of Delhi under the Act.“

Gahlaut had noticed the same endemic problems shortage of resources and infrastructure, poorly paid and demotivated support staff and overcrowding.

The chairman had recorded in his order that he found one house aunty (keeper) was looking after around 15 mentally retarded juveniles and had to work single-handedly for six days at a stretch before she could get a day's rest. A house aunty is required to cook food for the juveniles, wash their clothes, clean their toilets, give them a bath, make their bed, keep an eye on them to prevent them from inflicting injury on themselves and do other odd jobs, round the clock. He noted that this was not humanly possible, and for doing this job, she was paid Rs 1,000 a month! Due to JWB's efforts, Asha Kiran hiked its staff 's salary and roped in social workers.

It was not until 2011that Delhi High Court stepped in, shocked at the custodial death of mentally challenged inmates inside the home. It summoned the director of Asha Kiran and demanded answers. Acting on a letter, the court initiated a PIL and asked three lawyers --Colin Gonsalves, Pankaj Sinha and Anant Kumar Asthana -to visit the home for an inspection.

Their findings dismayed the court. The commitee said the home was not only congested but also short-staffed with just three house aunties for every 40 inmates, most of whom had severe mental debility . The lawyers revealed gross mismanagement with shortage of staff and doctors, poorly paid employees and overcrowding.

A year later in 2012, HC let go of the issue on an undertaking by the state government that it would improve conditions at the home by bringing in experts, building more infrastructure, installing CCTVs for better surveillance and setting up a governing council.

The council was given full powers to take decisions in this regard.

Asha Kiran Home last figured in Supreme Court when petitioner Reena Banerjee highlighted issues like inadequate medical treatment, medical services and access to doctors; skewed ratio of staff to look after the inmates; overcrowding; poor distribution and consumption of food, clothing, bedding and other items; and abuses heaped on the mentally challenged persons, particularly women residents.

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