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                            Proposal AMENDMENT OF P.W.D. ACT, 1995

1. Department of WCD & Social Welfare of Government of west Bengal has an exhaustive amendment of PWD Act 1995. Before expressing any opinion on this proposal it may be worthwhile to examine the background of enactment of PWD Act 1995 and reasons why the amendments are being proposed.

2. PWD Act, 1995 is a central act of Parliament which received the assent of President of India on 1st January, 1996. The full name of the Act is – The Person With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act, 1995.

3. On 5the December, 1992 a meeting was held at Bejing primarily to lunch the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled persons(1993-2002) convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and pacific region. The meeting adopted proclamation on the full participation and Equality of people with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Region. This Proclamation ultimately resulted in enactment of PWD Act.

4. The Amendment has been suggested in the background of India signing and ratifying on 1st October, 2007 UNCRPD(United Nation Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities). The scope of the convention is much wider. It is on the charter of United Nation which recognizes inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. In the said convention United Nations recognizes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Conventions of Human Rights etc. The Amendment suggested by Government of West Bengal is probably the opinion of State Government communicated (or to be communicated) to one Central Government since the Original Act is a Central Act passed by Parliament which Parliament alone is competent to amend. Since the commitment of Government of India on UNCRPDF is more crucial and the scope of the proposed changes would be wide, it would not perhaps be prudent go in for Amendment of individual sections of the Act – but a new Central Act should be enacted in line with the provisions of UNCRPD keeping in mind existing provision of PWD Act Whether the new Act would be enacted in supervision of existing PWD Act. Whether the new act would be enacted in supervision of existing PWD Act would depend on the implications of the meeting at Beijing in 1992 about which we do not have adequate information. Central Government would be the best judge in this regards as they are equipped with all the facts.

The provision of the New Act (if any) have to be drafted by competent legal luminaries who are well aware of the full implication of Human Rights included in the charter of United Nations.

5. This will also require total replacement of Mental Health Act, 1987 by a new law. In fact Mental Health Act has not entered into the arena of Human Rights. In the Act treatment of mental patients in mental hospitals has been termed as detention - a legacy of Lumley Act, which unfortunately remained in force decades after India became a Sovereign Democratic Republic,

6. Instead of getting confused with number of Acts on similar subjects, it may be work while to make sincere efforts to draft a single Act where problem of persons with physical & mental disabilities and mental illness should be tackled in the same footing with emphasis on human dignity and human rights. No form of illness, disability should be allowed to interfere with Human Rights. All human beings have some basic rights which can not be denied under any pretext.

7. We have noticed with pleasure that some laudable steps have been initiated to mitigate the sufferings of physically disabled persons. It is easier to comprehend their problems. It is also not difficult to understand the problems of mentally retarded person. The complexity of the problem of mentally ill-persons is not so easily understood. Very few people are well aware about the difference between mental illness & mental retardation. Quite often people suffering from mental illness manifests the symptoms of illness during adolescent period & the parents fail to detect it on time. When the abnormalities are detected it may be too late for a permanent cure as mental illness has already become chronic. With regular and proper dose of medication the patients may overcome the abnormality for a reasonable period but the possibility of relapse of mental illness can not be eliminated.

8. There is a social stigma associated with mental illness. As a result the patients fail to get human dignity from the society as a whole. The society wants to segregate them form from the mainstream of life. In PWD Act this sensitive aspect of mental illness has escaped notice of person’s who have drafted it. Even now health department is not fully aware as the implications of the problem. In fact only family members of the patient can fell the extent of indignity faced by persons suffering from mental illness.. Hence while enacting appropriate provisions to safeguard the interest of mentally ill patient’s a lot of care and empathy is required. Mental Health Act also needs a sea change and should preferably be scrapped and replaced by a new Act. The emphasis of the present Act is more on protecting the society form alleged violent behavior of persons with mental illness and there is hardly any effort re -rail the mentally ill who have been mentally derailed and are facing a pity from the society. It is urgently necessary to merge them merge them with one main stream with dignity and human rights.



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