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Health Ministry planning to amend Mental Health Act of 1987

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: Amendments seem to be the flavour of the season with Ministries trying to outdo each other in amending legislations related to disability. However, they seem more keen on quick fix measures. According to sources, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is now planning to amend the outdated Mental Health Act of 1987. But this too, is now mired in controversy.

The Ministry has reportedly assigned the task of conducting a consultative process and suggesting draft amendments to Dr. Soumitra Pathare of Pune, noted mental health expert and human rights activist. However, a section of the sector feels that the process of amendments is being looked at in a very narrow manner.

In a letter to Dr. Pathare, Dr. Achal Bhagat, Director, Sarthak, said, “Under U.N.C.R.P.D., it is the responsibility of the State to consult all stakeholders before formulating changes in legislation. The State cannot delegate this responsibility to one individual. An individual, any individual, can never have the reach and resources and I see this as an abdication of responsibility.”

According to Dr. Bhagat, there are many nuances that need to be debated and this can only be done by working closely with primary stakeholders, disability sector and civil society. A hurriedly put text would lead to half baked solutions, he feels.

D.N.I.S. contacted Dr. Pathare, who refused to comment saying he had been getting several calls on this and that an unnecessary controversy is being made out of the whole issue. Ministry of Health also seems to be maintaining silence and did not reply to our E-mail and fax.

If the intentions of the Ministry are bonafide and if it is committed to conducting the process in a transparent manner, then the unusual reluctance to speak on the subject is surprising! Moreso, because it affects the lives of millions of people living with mental illness – an already neglected and stigmatized minority.