The pathetic level of debating that one witnesses on English news TV channels in India was clearly outdone by the the debate on the Mental health Care Bill in the Lok Sabha today. To be sure, here there was no acrimony but the Chair occupied by various MPs through the session, kept truncating many members speeches ala the now seldom missed ‘Swami who went’ of Gone Times.
The participants almost uniformly acted like students at a high school elocution competition on mental health and mental illness. They kept doling out statistics on prevalence of mental illness, on the shortage of manpower (mental health professionals) and that lugubrious repetition was both tedious and odious. Barely 10% of the ‘talk time’ was given to discuss the contents of the Bill per se and with the possible exception of two MPs nobody even mentioned that the official professional body of psychiatrists, the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) was not consulted on the contents of the Bill. Recent appeals by officials of the IPS were not at all taken into consideration.
The Bill as it stands is going to drive professionals into highly defensive practice, and it treats professionals like persons whose motives are not above suspicion. There are aspects of the Bill that are not only laudable but long overdue such as the decriminalising of suicide attempts. But these are few and far between.
The bonhomie that prevailed between the Left and the Right would have been exemplary for a House that has not covered itself in glory for its amicability, were it not for the fact that these seemed again disparate high school students gleefully and unwittingly flocking together under a banner of “Homework Not Done!”.
Hardly surprising given that this was the brainchild of the UPA II, carefully nurtured and doled out in the same swaddling clothes by adoptive parents of the NDA Govt, keen methinks, only to see that one more of “its” Bills passes through and boosts the statistics of its accomplishments. The Government spends crores on a National Institute of Mental Health, which I understand was not even consulted when this particular Bill was drafted. So that exchequer is meant for only marching to a tune that some extraneous experts who do not even join the professional body set?