Times of India
Maharashtra medical council notice to drug rehab specialist
November 20, 2020

Psychiatrist Yusuf Merchant

Psychiatrist Yusuf Merchant

MUMBAI: Acting on a complaint about violence and sexual abuse against drug rehabilitation specialist Dr Yusuf Merchant, the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC) on Thursday issued a notice to him detailing the charges and seeking his reply.

The notice, signed by MMC registrar Sanjay Deshmukh, said the council had examined the material submitted by complainant Arjun Nath and found a “prima facie case exists for holding an inquiry” into the doctor’s conduct.

But, Dr Merchant’s lawyer Shabnam Latiwala said her client is innocent and the victim of a malicious campaign and personal vendetta.

The charges—violations of various sections of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002—include behaviour “unbecoming of a medical practitioner” and committing unethical acts such as advertisements, prescribing steroids and psychotropic drugs without a medical indication, and storing and selling Schedule H drugs. “You are registered only as MBBS, claiming to be a specialist without special qualification in the branch (of psychiatry),” said the notice.

Dr Merchant, who founded Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre in 1983, has been given 15 days to respond before a trial will begin, said a senior MMC official.

One of the main allegations in the complaint received by MMC on September 14, is that Dr Merchant was involved in “unconventional treatment of substance abuse and mental illness”.

The complainant claimed that the doctor, while treating patients with mental illness, indulged in sexual misconduct and abused “up to and including custodial rape”, said the MMC notice.

He further alleged that the doctor disregarded physical boundaries of female patients and, “under the guise of love and affection, frequently touched, hugged, held hands and kissed patients”. One of the allegations was that on “therapeutic vacations” to Thailand and France he would sleep in the same hotel room and, in some cases, in the same bed with female patients.

The allegations said he manipulated women into long-term, non-consensual sexual situations with emotional support and financial assistance. He has also been charged for causing physical assault and violence by “choking, kicking, slapping or otherwise violently assaulting the male patients and using criminal force even on minors”. It has also been alleged that Dr Merchant prescribed psychotropic medication meant for mental conditions such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia with “aplomb even to minors”. He allegedly did multiple ECT (electro-convulsive shock therapy) for minors without consent from or family knowledge.

Latiwala said, “When we received the first notice from MMC, we raised a preliminary objection as MMC rules don’t allow complaints to be filed on basis of anonymous complaints alone. Dr Merchant’s lawyer said the MMC should have heard their preliminary objections before filing charges. “We will, however, respond to the charges and hope for a fair hearing.”