In an order that finally settles the ongoing dispute over the St Joseph hospice in Chengalpattu, the Madras High Court on Friday ordered an advocate commission to be constituted for the repatriation of elderly inmates to the hospice. The panel, to be headed by senior advocate Sunder Mohan, will speak individually to each of the inmates and ascertain whether they would like to go back to the hospice.
Acknowledging the complexity of the issue, the court reportedly observed, âWe take note of the position that some press reports inform a disinclination of the inmates, who have been removed from the hospice, to return thereto. We cannot be oblivious to the position that the hospice has been dealing with persons on the verge of death, persons who suffer severe physical disabilities as also those who are mentally unsound. Reaction of each may vary.â
In an admission before the courts on Tuesday, the Tamil Nadu government had stated that 12 of the 294 inmates had died.
On Wednesday, the district social welfare officer Sangeetha submitted a report before the court essentially stating that none of the inmates now under government care wished to return to the hospice.
According to sources in the department, the District Revenue Department in Kancheepuram had submitted a report to the court stating that the hospice was not fit for human habitation. The report also stated that there there was no sanitation or facilities for food at the hospice. The inmates were also not getting the necessary treatment, the report states.
Speaking to TNM, police officials close to the investigation said that they were aiding the repatriation of the elderly inmates. As per the latest figures available with the police, seven elders had expressed their desire to go back to the hospice. âWe cannot send them to the hospice against their will,â one officer said.
âSend the inmates backâ
On Tuesday, the Madras High Court had directed the Tamil Nadu government to send the elderly inmates back to the St Josephâs Hospice in Paleswaram village in Chengalpattu.
The petition came up before Justices CT Selvam and N Sathishkumar. Father Thomasâs counsel argued that Father Thomas was the guardian of the 294 inmates who had been taken away by the social welfare department.
Demanding answers from the government for the 12 inmates who had reportedly died, the court said, âWas a post-mortem conducted? Where is the post-mortem report?â
The Justices then ordered that the elderly inmates be sent back to the St Joseph hospice. A report on their return to the hospice had to be submitted by the Kancheepuram social welfare officer. However, on Wednesday, after the government submitted a report that said none of the inmates wished to return, an advocate commission was appointed.
The dispute came to the courts when Father Thomas, who runs the hospice, filed a habeas corpus petition in the Madras High Court. He alleged that the elderly inmates were taken away from the Paleswaram hospice without their consent. He also requested the Madras HC to direct the government to produce the âillegally detainedâ inmates before the court.
Father Thomasâs counsel had stated in court that they were operating with licenses. He also stated that the inmates had not been taken care of by the Social Welfare department.
It is to be noted that when TNM visited the hospice last month, the manger Alex Pandian had said, âThe license for our hospice has expired. We reapplied last September and renewal is under process. Governmental delay is not our fault.â
However, in its response, the Tamil Nadu government stated that 12 of the inmates had died. The others had been sent to various government homes. The government counsel also stated that criminal proceedings had been initiated against the hospice.
In February, the St Joseph hospice had come under the scanner for transporting two senior citizens and a corpse, along with vegetables, in a truck that doubled up as an ambulance.
Following this, the police officials and the social welfare department conducted an investigation and found that the hospice was operating without a license. While the hospice contended that they had applied for a license and that its issuance was pending, the authorities ordered the hospice shut and took the inmates away to various government homes.
As soon as the activities of the hospice came to light, several had attacked Christianity and âChristian missionariesâ for exploiting people. Slamming those who sought to politicise this, the Madras High Court observed, âDonât add religious colour to this issue.â