Rajya Sabha passes Mental Health Care Bill

Health Minister JP Nadda in the Rajya Sabha on August 08, 2016.

Health Minister JP Nadda in the Rajya Sabha on August 08, 2016.

The Rajya Sabha Monday passed a bill seeking to provide better healthcare for people suffering from mental illnesses as members across the political spectrum sought urgent steps to address the lack of infrastructure and shortage of psychiatrists in the country.

The Mental Health Care Bill 2013, which provides for protection and promotion of rights of persons with mental illness during the delivery of health care in institutions and in the community, was passed unanimously by a voice vote.

There were 134 official amendments to the bill, which took almost an hour to be passed clause by clause.

Replying to a debate on the legislation, Health Minister J P Nadda termed it as “humane and progressive” and said its focus was to provide better support and facilities to the people suffering from various kinds of mental illnesses.

“This is a historic and progressive Bill. It has been a long standing effort. It is patient-centric and focusses on how more facilities and support could be provided to the patients,” Nadda said.

He said around 6-7 per cent of the country’s population suffered from some kind of mental illnesses, while 1-2 per cent suffer from acute mental disease.

He also admitted that there was shortage of medical staff dealing with mental health in the country and the government is trying hard to have more such specialists.

Various stakeholders including academia, experts and political establishment were consulted while formulating the Bill, Nadda said, adding “the Bill focusses on community based treatment. Special provisions for women and health have also been provided for in the Bill.”

Among the various objectives, the bill provides for ensuring healthcare, treatment and rehabilitation of persons with mental illness “in a manner that does not intrude on their rights and dignity.”

It also allows adults to make an advance directive on how they wish to be treated in case they suffer from mental illness in future. A person can also chose a nominative representative who would take care of him or her.

Earlier, Congress member T Subbirami Reddy raised a point of order saying the bill had as many as 134 amendments and sought to know if a new bill could be drafted.

He was supported by his party colleague Jairam Ramesh, with even Deputy Chairman P J Kurien observing that the point of order raised by Reddy was “very valid” but asked them to raise the issue when the measure was taken up for passage.