Proposed mental health legislation can be misused: Delhi court

Voicing serious concern over provisions of the Mental Health Bill, Delhi court said blanket presumption in law that any person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to mentally ill could be misused.

PTI| Last Updated: Nov 28, 2013, 22:54 PM IST

New Delhi: Voicing serious concern over provisions of the Mental Health Bill, a Delhi court has said a blanket presumption in law that any person who attempts suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from mental illness unless proved otherwise could be misused.
The court cited the cases of activists who use non-violent means of fast unto death to protest and "so many women", who take the extreme step as a last resort after facing violence and exploitation.

It said what Section 124 Clause 1 of Mental Health Bill, 2013 seeks to do in effect is to create a blanket presumption in law that any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from mental illness at the time of attempting suicide unless proved otherwise.

"While on the one hand the proposed amendment seeks to create a presumption of mental illness in an attempt to decriminalise attempt to commit suicide whereas on the other hand it does not take care of the mischief it seeks to cause since a person presumed to be suffering from mental illness is deemed under law to be incapable of giving consent, entering into a contract, execute documents including Wills or dealing with the property etc," Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau held.

The court said if the amendment in the Bill is passed by Parliament, "it will take into its fold activists political, social, environmental etc. Who like Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Irom Sharmila, Swami Nigamananda, Anna Hazare and others undertake non-violent means of protest by sitting on fast unto death for causes which may be termed as noble, unfortunately making them liable to be branded as those suffering from mental illness, unless contrary is proved.

"I am sure this proposed amendment is not intended to be an instrument to silence non violent protests, political opponents or to quell a political upsurge."

The court said the blanket presumption raised by this proposed amendment is only on the basis of the overt act of such person who attempts to commit suicide and not on the basis of his medical record of his mental condition or expert certification.

It said, "so many women in our country who attempt to take this extreme path of self-destruction as a last resort since we have failed to provide them a safe and secure environment, dignity, respect and freedom from exploitation and violence, would then stand the risk of being branded as suffering from mental illness with adverse legal consequences following such a presumption."

It also said it is a matter of serious concern that this important facet should have skipped the attention of the draftsmen to the Bill.

The observations came as the court acquitted a 72-year-old insane man, who murdered his wife and then attempted to commit suicide, saying he was not aware of his actions. Now, Brij Mohan has been ordered to be shifted to a specialised behavioural institute for his treatment here.