Activists and doctors are up in arms against two ministries taking completely opposite points of view on the legal rights of people with disabilities and mental illnesses.
The Disability Rights Bill 2010 drafted by the ministry of social justice, which is out for public discussion, mentions full legal capacity to people with disability that include people living with mental illness. The Mental Health Care Bill 2010, also open currently for public debate, however, talks of providing restricted legal capacity to people living with mental illness.
According to estimated data, around 36 million people are living with severe mental illness. Since mental disability is considered the same as physical disability in India, experts working on bringing in reforms in existing laws say there is no need for two separate laws.
"It's time these two ministries sit together, also with the ministry of law if possible, to come up with a combined draft," said Javed Abidi, disability rights activist. "If they do not act now, chances are neither of these drafts would make it to the parliament," he added.
Psychiatrists have been asking for the need for involuntary hospitalisation in some cases, as owing to their mental condition, they may not be fit enough to make a decision. The number of such people, however, is very low. There is also a chance of misusing the clause by some vested interests.
"There have been cases where divorces have been granted, and properties taken away by relatives, by exploiting loopholes in the existing law. It's a highly complex matter, and both the ministries need to consult all stakeholders, and look at what other countries are doing before reaching a conclusion," said Abidi.
"There should be a district level mental health review commission, where people can go to in case of any misuse is reported. We need to safeguard the interests of such people," said psychiatrist Dr Sunil Mittal, an organising secretary with the Indian Psychiatric Society, held in Delhi earlier this year.