Volume 8 Issue 7 - April 01, 2011

Health Ministry and M.S.J.E. to finally sit together to discuss Legal Capacity

Health Ministry officials at the consultation
Health Ministry officials at the consultation

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: Following the intervention of Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) and after going public with diametrically opposite positions on Legal Capacity, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) have finally decided to sit together and discuss overlapping issues contained in the two draft laws – the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill and the Mental Health Care Bill. This was agreed at the National Consultation organised by the Health Ministry on March 22 in New Delhi to discuss the Mental Health Care Bill.

The Consultation also saw a vigorous debate and discussion among various stakeholders – from psychiatrists to caregivers to user survivors. Opening the floor for discussion, Keshav Desiraju, Additional Secretary, Health Ministry spoke briefly on the work done so far. He said that the present version of the draft has been sent to Ministries and State Governments for comments. He also spelt out that there are many intersecting issues with the new disabilities law being prepared by M.S.J.E. which will have to sorted out before this draft could be taken to Parliament. Desiraju also clarified why several requests from stakeholders had to be turned down to ensure a ‘balanced’ representation from all sections (Although, majority of the participants were from the medical fraternity!).

Shalini Prasad, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry said that every section in the draft is subject to discussion and there was no need for any ‘impassioned’ interventions. She also added that all changes that are made to the draft should be driven by reason and practicality.

Dr. Jaya Sagade, who has co-drafted the Bill gave an overview of the Bill and its highlights and said that the focus of the Bill is health care.

Participants at the consultation
Participants at the consultation

There were a lot of debates on the proposed Advanced Directive and Nominated Representative options from caregivers. They were especially critical of the option for Nominated Representative. On the issue of Legal Capacity also there was a vigorous debate. While majority of the user survivors are staunchly supporting full Legal Capacity, there is stiff resistance to this idea from many quarters, especially from caregivers.

Dr. Aniruddh Kala, Clinical Director, North India Psychiatry Centre, felt that the draft put too much onus on the State.

Bhargavi Davar of National Alliance on Access to Justice for Persons living with a Mental Illness (N.A.A.J.M.I.) felt that they were looking for good linkages of mental health care with other health issues such as sanitation, nutrition, etc. but were very disappointed. The draft still retains the legacy of 200 years of custodial approach towards mental health, she added.

Several participants were also critical of the fact that the draft was still not compliant to U.N.C.R.P.D. Dr. Achal Bhagat of Saarthak pointed out that rights could not be divided and therefore, there has to be a convergence between the drafts of M.S.J.E. and the Health Ministry.

Click here to read draft Mental Health Care Bill (PDF – 366 KB)

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