Rights groups question new disability bill

On the eve of Mental Health Day, rights groups opposed the draft  of  Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2012.

The groups termed the bill draconian and against the interest of people suffering from mental disorders. India is home to 30-40 million people living with psychosocial disabilities.

“We have been campaigning for a law better than the Mental Health Act of 1987. But the new bill is worse than that,” said Javed Abidi, convenor, Disabled Rights Group.

He said the proposed law will promote setting up of private mental health institutions with minimal responsibility and accountability.

According to section 61 of the draft Bill, a private establishment found without registration with the government will be fined with up to Rs 50,000 as penalty.

For second offence, the fine may be extended up to Rs 2 lakh and for subsequent offences, Rs 5 lakh. “Private institutions earn lakhs of rupees within first few months of opening up. The proposed punishment will not deter them from not registering and flouting norms,” said Abidi.

The Bill also takes away judicial safeguards which were present in the previous Act. The 1987 Act had provision for judicial oversight of the mental health review panel for admission and discharge of a patient.

In the proposed bill, involuntary admission is left to the approval of psychiatrists alone. The number of psychiatrists has been brought down from two to one.

Also, now the state panel does not have to approve, but only be informed about the admissions. Bhargavi Davar of NAAJMI (National Alliance on Access to Justice for People Living with a Mental Illness) said earlier there were 8 to 9 mental asylums in the country.
But in the last one decade 400 more have come up nationwide in which government managed are very few.  

The rights groups said they will demonstrate in front of the Union health ministry on Wednesday demanding that the bill not be passed in its current form.

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