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Legal Capacity: Health Ministry and M.S.J.E. come out with two diametrically opposite positions

D.N.I.S. News Network, India: In what can be a major embarrassment, two Ministries of the same Government have come out in the public domain with two diametrically opposite positions on Legal Capacity. While the Working Draft of the proposed Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) talks about ‘full’ Legal Capacity, the draft Mental Health Care Act (M.H.C.A.) released by the Ministry of Health, is in favour of ‘restricted’ Legal Capacity. The million dollar question now is which way will India move?

It may be noted that Legal Capacity was one of the substantive issues that the Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) and the larger disability sector had wanted the Committee to settle first before coming out in public with a draft law. Also, D.R.G. had reiterated the need for active communication between the two Ministries on their respective laws.

In a letter to Minister, M.S.J.E., Convenor, D.R.G., Javed Abidi said, “Logically, this (the issue of Legal Capacity) should have been settled long ago! That's why we have been saying that your Committee failed to discuss, debate and settle substantive issues. No attempt was made. The N.G.O. leaders in whom you placed your trust, 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.”

“You can yourself find out as to how many of the Committee meetings were attended by the Joint Secretary of the Health Ministry. Probably not even one! No wonder this huge gap between the position of the Health Ministry and the M.S.J.E. Committee,” he added.

Abidi along with Dr. Achal Bhagat of Sarthak, met a senior official at the Health Ministry who informed them that the M.H.C.A. draft was sent to the Social Justice Ministry over a month ago. Surprisingly, no response has been received from them. Left with no other option, the Health Ministry is now going ahead with its process and is having a National Consultation on their draft in New Delhi on March 22. Incidentally, senior officials of M.S.J.E. have been invited to this Consultation. Chairperson of the M.S.J.E., Committee, Dr. Sudha Kaul and the Legal Consultant, Dr. Amita Dhanda have also been invited. Whether or not they will have the courage of conviction to attend this very important Consultation and defend their position remains to be seen.

In the meantime, precious time has been lost and lakhs of tax payers’ money has been spent. Sadly, the end result is zilch: two drafts, two opposite positions and the lives of people with disabilities especially people living with mental illness hanging in a limbo.

Click here to read draft Mental Health Care Act

Click here to read Javed Abidi’s letter to Minister, M.S.J.E. (Word - 32 KB)