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Times of India
01 July 2010
By Umesh Isalkar
Pune, India

Proposed Amendments Focus On Safeguarding Human Rights Of Those With Mental Illnesses
The human rights of persons with mental illness in the country will soon get a comprehensive legal safeguard. After extensive public consultation, the draft envisaging amendments in the existing Mental Health Act (MHA) 1987 will be prepared in six months, said Keshav Desiraju, additional secretary of the Union ministry of health and family welfare.

Desiraju was in the city for the first regional consultation on proposed amendments in the Act which was held at Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (Yashada) in the city on Wednesday.

&Persons with mental illness constitute a very vulnerable section of society. The primary purpose of the proposed amendments is to protect the rights of persons with mental illness when they receive health care for their mental illness,& said Desiraju.

Mental health professionals from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa, Daman Diu, NGOs working in the field of mental health, legal professionals, private practitioners, psychiatry social workers attended the western region consultation.

With advances in the understanding of the rights of persons with mental illnesses, it has become necessary to amend the Mental Health Act to bring the provisions of the Act in accordance with the new approach, said Desiraju. The proposed amendments essentially focus on safeguarding the human rights of people with mental illness, he added.

Sujaya Krishnan, director (mental health), Union ministry of health and family welfare said, &The current MHA definition does not define mental illness but rather defines a ‘mentally ill person’. It is important that mental illness is defined so that the boundaries are made clear.&

There is also a lack of clarity whether private non-medical institutions where persons with mental illness are kept (sometimes in appalling conditions) come under the Act. The suggested changes make it clear that all institutions, medical or non-medical, where persons with mental illness are admitted to or reside at, come under the Act, said Desiraju.

Reminding everyone that much more needs to be done, Alka Pawar, director of the Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) said, &There is a place called Yerawadi in Tamil Nadu where mentally ill people were kept in a building shackled with chains. A fire broke out in that building and all those who were chained were burnt to death. This happened in 2001. This brought about awareness of the status of mental health care facilities as well as the human rights of persons with mental illness across the country.&

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