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In what could be termed as a landmark bill, the Union Health ministry tabled the Mental Health Care Bill 2013 in the Rajya Sabha this week, seeking quality treatment for mentally ill patients and decriminalising suicide attempts.

The bill that aims to do away with cruel treatment against mentally ill patients was cleared by the Union Cabinet in June. It seeks to provide affordable and quality treatment to the patients and consider a person attempting suicide as mentality ill.

"Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to be suffering from mental illness at the time of the bid and shall not be liable to punishment under the said Section," says section 124 of the Bill.

The Mental Health Care Bill will replace the Mental Health Act of 1987 after making changes in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The new bill has outlined the rights and dignity of a mentally ill person to ensure fair treatment without any discrimination. It restricts traditional treatments like sterilisation, electric shocks and chaining of patients.

If passed, millions of mentally ill patients across the country will benefit from the bill. India has about 10-12 million people with severe mental disorders and about 50 million with common mental disorders, according to a report by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health released in 2005.

Feasibility of Mental Health Care Bill

Some experts are of the opinion that the ambitious bill will require ample man power and infrastructure which India lacks.

"The government would want at least one public psychiatrist in each district, but we estimate that less than 300 of India's 600-plus districts have a public psychiatrist," Sunil Mittal, a psychiatrist in New Delhi who is the chair of the parliamentary committee of the Indian Psychiatric Society, told The Telegraph. 

"Finding the human resources and creating mechanisms for providing the services will be a huge challenge - the private sector will need to be heavily involved."

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