The Mental Healthcare Bill 2016, that decriminalises suicide and provides for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness, was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday. “Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code,” the bill said. The Mental Healthcare Bill’ also has a provision to protect and restore the property right of the mentally ill people, Health Minister J P Nadda said in the Lok Sabha, just before it was passed by the House by a voice vote. All the amendments moved by the opposition members were defeated.
While replying to a debate on the bill, Nadda described it as a “patient-centric” measure and said there was a need to empower the patients so that they could secure proper treatment. The legislation has been brought after wider consultations with the stakeholders, he said. “There were consultations at the regional level, as well at the Centre. After consultations with the stakeholders the bill was sent to the Standing Committee and post amendments it came to Rajya Sabha.”
Most of the suggestions of the Standing Committee were accepted by the government, the Health Minister said. Around 29 members participated in the discussion and almost all of them extended support to the bill. Stating that the 1987 Mental Act was institutionalised, the minister said that in the present bill, instead of the institution, the focus was on the community. The bill is a “progressive legislation” and intends to take care of everyone in case of any exigency, he said.
The bill, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha in August 2016, ensures every person shall have a right to access mental health care and treatment from mental health services run or funded by the appropriate government. It also guarantees free treatment for such persons if they are homeless or poor, even if they do not possess a Below Poverty Line card.
One of the clauses in the bill decriminalises suicide, stating that a person who attempts suicide should be presumed to have severe stress, and shall not be punished. As per the bill, it will be government’s duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of any attempt.
The bill also provides that a person with mental illness will have the right to make an advance directive that states how he she wants to be treated for the illness and nominate a representative.
(With inputs from agencies)