Volume 7 Issue 9 - May 01, 2010

“Neither me nor Justice Chapalgaonkar were involved in drafting the Mental Health Act Amendments,” Justice A.P. Shah

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: The proposed amendments to the Mental Health Act have hit another controversy. On April 30, Dr. Soumitra Pathare, who has been entrusted with drafting the amendments by the Ministry of Health, said that he was not the only one who was involved in the drafting process. Along with him and Jaya Sagade, Vice Principal of Indian Law Society (I.L.S.), Pune, Justice A.P. Shah and Justice N.P. Chapalgaonkar were also involved. Barely a few hours later, in a meeting with the Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.), when asked to confirm this, Justice Shah expressed surprise at Dr. Pathares claim and totally denied having any thing to do with the draft amendments. In fact, according to him, even Justice Chapalgaonkar is not involved in the process!

Dr. Pathare had made this claim while speaking at the 14th talk of the Canvas Askew series titled Awakening from bedlam: towards progressive mental health legislation in New Delhi on April 30. Other than him, the panel consisted of Dr. Rajesh Nagpal, Dr. A.K. Kala and Dr. Achal Bhagat and was moderated by Dr. Alok Sarin, all of them psychiatrists. Of these, only Dr. Bhagat was critical of the process being adopted for amending the Mental Health Act.

Dr. Pathare said that the task of amending the Act was given to the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy of I.L.S., Pune with which he is associated. A first draft of the amendments was prepared and sent to 120 stakeholders of which 19 or so have given feedback. Based on these, a second draft will be prepared which will then be made public on the Health Ministrys website for comments. After that, four regional consultations would take place. Thereafter, a third draft will be prepared which will be discussed at a national consultation, based on which a fourth draft would be prepared!

But these consultations were termed as tokenistic. They have only now been hurriedly planned after stiff opposition from the disability sector, particularly the mental health groups. According to these groups, the draft amendments are only from a professionals point of view and do not comply with the basic tenets of U.N.C.R.P.D. like non-discrimination and legal capacity. Although, Dr. Pathare claimed that one of the basic philosophies behind the amendments was deinstitutionalisation, but disability sector leaders present at the talk said that nowhere in the draft is this being addressed. Nor is the issue of legal capacity been enumerated anywhere. Most of the audience at the talk was highly critical of the draft and the process.

The most hard hitting remarks came from noted disability rights activist, Javed Abidi towards the end of the talk. He said that people with mental illness were as much people with disability as anyone else. Therefore, the nodal Ministry for anything to do with any issue regarding the rights of people with mental illness should be the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and not the Ministry of Health to begin with.

The basic tenet of the disability rights movement is Nothing about us without us, Abidi said. And everyone who has spoken till now are either professionals or family members. It is the disabled people who will decide what is it that they want, he said emphatically.

You or the Ministry of Health have nothing to do with this issue and it should be left to people whose job it is, Abidi told Dr. Pathare forcefully which left the entire panel and audience in stunned silence.

Click here to read the proposed amendments to the Mental Health Act (PDF - 307 KB)

Click here to read E-mail dated March 31 received from Bhargavi Davar of NAAJMI (Word - 45 KB)

Click here to read E- mail dated April 5, received from Bhargavi Davar of NAAJMI (Word - 16 KB)

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