“Why two different Bills on mental Health?”

Disability rights groups are up in arms against the divergent views being taken by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on the rights of persons with disabilities.

As per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by India, all human beings are presumed to have legal capacities. However, while the new Persons with Disabilities Act, 2011 under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment propagates the concept of “full legal capacity” of persons with disabilities as per the Convention, the draft of the Mental Health Care Act, 2010 being piloted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare goes against the tenets of the UNCRPD.

“As someone explained to me the other day, the old Mental Health Act could forcibly cage people in a mental asylum for up to 90 days; whereas the new draft envisages caging people for up to 30 days. And, the signature of two psychiatrists is enough to make that happen,” says Javed Abidi, Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.

Wondering why there was a need to have two different laws as mental health was covered in the draft Persons with Disabilities Act, Mr. Abidi told The Hindu that the two views were diagrammatically opposite. “So, which view will ultimately prevail? What is Government of India’s position on legal capacity and the rights of people living with mental illness? The time has come to settle this extremely complex and yet critical matter,” he said, adding that he had brought this to the attention of the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Mukul Wasnik.

“Logically, this should have been settled long ago. That is why we have been saying that the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry has failed to discuss, debate and settle substantive issues. The non-governmental organisations in whom trust was placed were just too happy in each other’s company, listening to each other’s voices and patting each other’s back. Neither did they listen to people with disabilities, nor did they engage with the bureaucracy,” Mr Abidi said.

Pointing out that there was a huge gap between the positions of the two Ministries, Mr. Abidi said the draft of the Mental Health Care Act had been sent to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, but have received no comments have been received so far. “While Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is going ahead with another consultation next week, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment should attend the meeting and sort out the issues,” Mr. Abidi has suggested to Mr. Wasnik.

The Persons with Disabilities Act grants all legal rights to the differently abled persons to decide even on their treatment, the proposed law drafted by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry categorises persons with mental illness as those who do not need any support or need minimal support and those who do need support.

The Hindu

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