On Monday, August 8th, the Rajya Sabha passed the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013. The Bill seeks to promote and protect the rights of persons with mental illness, and to improve the overall mental healthcare system in the country. It provides for ensuring healthcare, treatment and rehabilitation of persons with mental illness “in a manner that does not intrude on their rights and dignity.” This Bill shall repeal the existing Mental Health Act, 1987. This is in keeping with India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, requiring the alignment of domestic laws to the principles laid out in the convention.
One of the main features of the Bill is the decriminalization of suicide attempts, which till now were punishable offences under the Indian Penal Code. The new Bill dictates that a person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from a mental illness at the time of such attempt. The Bill also disallows the use of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) on minors. Adults may be administered ECT, but only under anesthesia.
Union Health Minister JP Nadda termed it a “historic and progressive Bill”, highlighting its focus on community-based treatment, and special provisions for women and children. “It has been a long standing effort. It [the Bill] is patient-centric and focuses on how more facilities and support could be provided to the patients,” said Nadda. The Bill was welcomed by members of the House, who spoke about the vast treatment deficit, and inhumane practices employed in the mental healthcare system.