[Opinion] India: Disabled get social justice

Thursday, May 17, 2012

By Deepak Razdan*

India has 2.2 crore persons with various types of disabilities as per Census 2001. The Government has taken several steps, including legislative measures, to integrate them fully with society. They are seen in all walks of life, discharging not only their normal responsibilities, but trying to do better than others.  The Government is constantly undertaking initiatives which include the comprehensive Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, a draft of which is under consideration for introduction in Parliament.

Among the States with large populations of persons with disabilities, Uttar Pradesh tops with 34.53 lakh, Bihar and West Bengal have over 18 lakh each, Tamil Nadu over 16 lakh, Maharashtra over 15 lakh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan over 14 lakh each. According to 2001 Census, 49 per cent of the persons with disabilities in the country are literate and 34 per cent are employed. Over one crore persons have visual disability, 12.61 lakh hearing and over 61 lakh have locomotor disability in the country. According to the NSSO Survey of 2002, 75 per cent of persons with disabilities live in rural areas.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment which has the charge of looking after the welfare of the disadvantaged and marginalized sections of the society, including persons with disabilities, oversees a vast network of schemes for the empowerment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. The Government plans to consolidate them into a composite Centrally-sponsored national programme called National Programme for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities in the 12th Plan (2012-2017), for their better administration. The trend is towards greater financial allocations and better monitoring.

In 2011-2012, the Disability Division of the Ministry was allocated Rs 480 crores. The schemes in operation aim to promote physical, psychological, social, educational and economic rehabilitation and development of the beneficiaries to enhance their quality of life and to enable them to lead their life with dignity.

Although the 12th Plan is yet to be ready, the Planning Commission has made allocations for some new schemes during the first year (2012-2013) of the Plan. These include Rs 33 crores for post-matric scholarships for students and Rs 12 crores for Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship Scheme for persons with disabilities (PwDs) for MPhil and PhD courses.

The Government announced the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in 2006, recognizing them as valuable human source for the country who can lead a better quality of life if they have an effective access to rehabilitation measures.  A Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has been appointed in the Ministry to receive and act upon complaints of violations of rules and orders notified for the welfare of the beneficiaries. Seven national institutes have been established to work in the field of disabilities.

These institutes are engaged in human resource development in different field of disability, providing rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities and undertaking research and development. During the last financial year, Rs 34 crore were released to these institutes against the budgeted outlay of Rs 60 crores for the year.

Under the scheme of Assistance to the Disabled for Purchase or Fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP), approximately two lakh persons with disabilities are provided assistive devices every year. An allocation of Rs 100 crores was made for the scheme in 2011-2012 to help 2.80 lakh persons but only about Rs 28 crores was released till December, 2011, although a total expenditure during the year is now expected to be Rs 76 crores. The ADIP scheme is being revised during 2012-2013 to raise the income ceiling and ceiling of the assistive devices. Under the Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS), Rs 31.27 crores was sanctioned till December last year against the allocation of Rs 120 crores. The total expenditure is likely to cross Rs 86 crores.

The DDRS helps voluntary organizations to run special schools for children with hearing, visual and mental disability and vocational rehabilitation centres for persons with disabilities and for manpower development in the field of mental retardation and cerebral palsy. The target of beneficiaries during the year was 2.50 lakh.

To facilitate creation of infrastructure at district level, the Central Government is encouraging the States in setting up of District Disability Rehabilitation Centres (DDRCs) since the ninth Plan. A hundred DDRCs were proposed to be set up in the last two years. A total of 215 DDRCs are functioning in the country at present. Twenty-one were set up in 2010-11 and Rs 1.20 crore were released in 2011-12 to set up six more in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.

In 2009-10, the Government launched the Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Stage (IEDSS), replacing the earlier Integrated Education for Disabled Children (IEDC) scheme. While inclusive education for disabled children at elementary level is being provided under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), this scheme provides 100 per cent Central assistance for inclusive education of disabled children studying in Classes IX-XII in mainstream government, local body and government-aided schools.

The objective is to facilitate continuation of education of children with special needs up to higher secondary level. The scheme provides for personal requirements of the children in the form of assistive devices, helpers, transport, hostel, learning material, and scholarship for the girl child up to Rs 3000 per disabled child per annum. In addition, assistance is also provided for salary of special teachers, capacity building of teachers, making schools barrier free, establishment of resource rooms, and awareness and orientation. A budget of Rs 100 crore was allocated for this scheme during 2011-12 and over 1.30 lakh disabled children were proposed to be covered in the year. According to HRD Ministry, 35 per cent of children with disabilities remained out of school.

On World Autism Day, the Government reiterated its commitment to help development of people with autism in the country. India has about 10 million people with autism in the country. There was need to create awareness on the brain disorder and the Government would support all awareness campaigns. The Government has stressed the need to remove the myths about autism like it was the result of bad parenting or “emotionally dysfunctional mothers.”  The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the vehicle for the Right To Education, ensures support to children with autism, through resource teachers and teacher-aides.

In many States, students with autism get a one on one support with care-giver or aide in the classroom. The Rajya Sabha passed in the Budget Session a Bill to amend the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 to extend its benefits to children with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and multiple disabilities. The children having these severe disabilities will have the option to receive education at home. There is some criticism of this provision as it is felt that it will keep the special needs children away from their peers and out of the mainstream education.

In a major step, the Government has given an "in-principle approval" for creating a separate Department of Disability Affairs. Informing Parliament, the Social Justice and Empowerment Minister, Shri Mukul Wasnik, said the new Department would be within the Ministry and the proposal to amend the necessary rules is under process.  He said a need was felt to create a separate department under a Secretary-rank officer to address the issues of people with disability more effectively. At present, the issues related to empowerment of disabled people in the country are looked after by a division in the Ministry.

To ensure persons with disabilities travel by air with dignity and ease, the Government has constituted a Committee on the ‘Rights of Passengers with Disabilities and Reduced Mobility’.

There are Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) on “Carriage of passenger by air with disability and/or with reduced mobility” issued by the DGCA which are to be strictly adhered to by the airlines. The CAR is available on the DGCA website. Violation of the provisions of the CAR is punishable under the Schedule VI of the Aircraft Rules,1937. The Committee will look into the need for modifying the CAR in view of improved guidelines adopted in other countries and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities(UNCRPD).

The Committee’s terms including examining the inconvenience faced by persons with disabilities right from the stage of booking of tickets; arrival at the airport; checking-in, issues related to location and design of facilities like toilets, wheel chairs, check-in counters, security checking, boarding, seating in aircraft, disembarking and collection of luggage.

Needless to say, the persons with disabilities require similar facilities at railway stations and inter-city bus terminals. The Railway Board has prepared a plan to enable differently abled people to book rail tickets online at the concessional rates they are entitled to. It is proposed to issue identity cards with specific numbers to each person, which will be built into the computerised passenger reservation system (PRS) across the country.

To make life easier for the differently abled, the Social Justice Ministry is encouraging development of suitable technologies. The Ministry has made its own website accessible to persons with disabilities and is giving incentives to other Government organisations to follow its example. An Online Braille Library has been established at Dehradun in January this year. Its books can be accessed in real time from any location in the country.

On helping the persons with disability get their rightful share in employment, Section 33 of the Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunity, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 provides for a three per cent reservation in government employment, including one per cent each for disabled persons suffering from (i) blindness or low vision; (ii) hearing impairment and (iii) loco motor disability or cerebral palsy. A special recruitment drive was initiated recently to fill up backlog vacancies for posts reserved for persons with disabilities. As per information from 69 Ministries and Departments, there were 11134 persons with disabilities in employment under the Central Government on the 1st January, 2008.

There are no directions to the private sector to create jobs for disabled persons. However, a new Scheme of Incentives to the Private Sector for Employment of Physically Challenged Persons has been launched from 1st April, 2008. Under this Scheme, the Government provides the employer's contribution for Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees State Insurance (ESI) for three years, for physically challenged employees employed in the private sector on or after 1st April, 2008, with a monthly salary up to Rs. 25,000.

In spite of the increasing awareness about the welfare of the disadvantaged population, the 2012-13 plan allocation for the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry is Rs 5915 crores, which is just 1.512 per cent of the total plan allocation of Rs 3,91,027 crores for all Ministries and Departments of the Government of India. This year’s allocation of Rs 5915 crores is against the allocation of Rs 5375 crores, and the likely actual expenditure of Rs 5006 crores, during 2011-12.

Looking at the Ministry’s various responsibilities, the Planning Commission’s Working Group on empowerment of persons with disabilities has recommended an allocation of Rs one lakh crore as plan expenditure for the welfare of these persons during the 12th Plan, out of which Rs 24000 crores is be incurred through the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry, and the remaining Rs 76000 crores through other Ministries.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2011, the proposed law that is to replace the existing Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, is a comprehensively drafted piece of legislation that will remove the existing gaps and take care of nearly all the possible situations and circumstances in which the beneficiary population may require legal and social cover to lead a normal life. India has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and undertaken the obligation to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Persons with Disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. While the existing Act provided for an impairment-based exhaustive definition of disability, the UN Convention recognized that disability was an evolving concept. People with impairments, not expressly mentioned in the Act, were often denied the rights and entitlements recognized in the Act. The 1995 Act, among other provisions, required appropriate governments and local authorities to make public buildings and their campuses accessible to persons with disabilities. The facilities to be created include ramps, toilets for wheel-chair users, Braille signages, new elevators, auditory signals in existing elevators, and tactile tiles.

Accessibility for persons with disabilities was also one of the core provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force in May, 2008. Expanding the scope and definition of physical impairments, the 2011 Bill recognizes the equality of persons with disabilities and prohibits direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of disability. The draft law seeks to guarantee equality and non-discrimination to all persons with disabilities, and to recognize legal capacity of all persons with disabilities and make provision for support where required to exercise such legal capacity.

The Constitution of India includes persons with disabilities generically within the universal categories of person and citizen; it does not even mention disability specifically. Therefore the draft Bill attempts to lay down procedures by which the civil-political rights guaranteed in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Constitution of India can be realized for persons with disabilities. The rights guaranteed by the Constitution need adaptation to be of value for persons with disabilities. (PIB Features.)

(*Deepak Razdan is Senior Journalist. Views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of news.BDTV.in.)

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