Saturday, 24 December 2016 | MANAS JENA
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill passed in both the Houses of Parliament on December 14 and 16 has brought new era for the disabled. The new legislation complies with the United Nations Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 and ratified by India in 2007. The Government of India also has formulated the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in 2006.
As per 2011 census, India has 2.68 crore differently-abled persons who constitute 2.21 per cent of the total population out of which 1.50 crore are males and 1.18 crore females. By introduction of the new law, the persons with disabilities are going to realize their human rights at par with international standards to be enforced by the Government. The new law has replaced the Persons with Disabilities, Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation Act 1995. Though the Government of India had introduce the Bill in 2014, but it was referred to a Parliamentary Committee for examination and a report was submitted in 2015. There had been demand by organizations and activists working with people with disability for a comprehensive legislation for last few years.
As a signatory to the UN convention, India has to implement the provisions of the convention and also harmonise its country laws with the provisions of the convention. The Government of India also submitted the country report prepared by Centre for Disability Studies, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad to the UN committee on rights of persons in 2015 as a mandate of the convention. However, the new legislation is in the right perspective and it has replaced the earlier model while expanding the scope of rights of the persons with disabilities in the areas of discrimination and hurdle free physical accessibility, education, employment, economic rehabilitation and social empowerment towards building a productive, safe and dignified life of the disabled.
In the new legislation it is said that the Government shall ensure that the persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life and have the right to equal recognition everywhere as any other person before law. The new law provides grant of guardianship by district court under which there will be joint decision making between the guardian and the person with disability. While the new legislation recognizes the special requirements of women and children with disabilities it has aims to eliminate any kind of discrimination as any distinction, exclusion and restriction on the basis of disabilities damaging the exercise of equal rights in the economic, political, social, cultural, civil or any other rights.
The new law has increased the type of disabilities from existing 7 to 21 by adding many new categories of disabilities such as acid attack victim, speech and language disabilities, Parkinson’s diseases, chronic neurological conditions, sickle cell diseases, muscular dystrophy, and blood disorders, haemophilia, thalassemia, etc. The Central Government has the power to add more type of diseases in the list. It has been a new addition to the issues of disabilities in the country through recognition of its verities of existence in different categories.
The new law has expanded the areas of affirmative action with inclusion of a range of new interventions such as a provision of reservation from three to four per cent in the Government establishments along with provision of reservation in higher education, employment, allocation of land and poverty alleviation schemes. It is said that the appropriate Government shall formulate schemes and programmes to safeguard and promote the rights of person with disabilities. The schemes must have provision of education with skill development and employability, self-employment through additional financial provisions considering the specific condition of the person with disabilities.
The special provision for women and children has been spelt out and it is compulsory that every child with benchmark disability between age group of 6 and 18 years shall have the right to free education which has to be ensured by the Government. Under the new law, special courts will be designated in each district to deal with the cases concerning the violation of rights of the persons with disabilities. There is provision of penalty of jail term for six months and fine of Rs 10,000 for offences committed against persons with disability and violation of provisions under the new law. The provision has added strength to the legislation and ensured its effective implementation.
It is most important to note that under the new legislation, accessibility has been given importance by including access to both Government and private establishments. The Prime Minister has given priority to ensure accessibility in public and private buildings in a prescribed time frame. The public building owned by the Government or private bodies used for educational, commercial, cultural or any other public purposes should be accessible to persons with disability. Especially, hospital and healthcare units must follow the norms of making accessibilities mandatory in their establishments. There will be national fund and State fund to meet the financial requirement for the implementation of the provisions, schemes and programmes of the legislation. The State Government will frame rules and constitute district committee to address the concerns of the persons with disabilities. In order to strengthen the institutional mechanism, there is provision of Central and State level advisory board and the office of the Chief Commissioner of persons with disabilities will have two more commissions and an advisory committee comprising of not more than 11members drawn from experts in various categories of disabilities. The State Commissioners of disabilities will be assisted by an advisory committee comprising of not more than five members drawn from experts in various disabilities. The Chief Commissioner for persons with disabilities and State Commissioners will act as regulatory bodies and grievances redressal agencies to monitor implementation of the Act.
This historic legislation is not going to be implemented in Jammu and Kashmir. The persons with disabilities in that State have been demanding for the extension of the law to their State. The State Assembly of J&K has to ratify for its implementation in the State. However, in order to access any of the rights and benefits, a disabled identity certificate is the pre-condition under the provision of law but to get a certificate of disability has been a major problem as only 50 per cent of the persons with disabilities identified in 2011 Census have availed disability certificate by August 2015. In Odisha total 12, 44,402 persons were identified but only seven lakh person have been issued the certificate. Many deserving persons have been deprived of getting certificate and by that are unable to access the benefits of protection for them under the provisions of laws and schemes of the Central Government. The certificates issued to the disabled are valid within the State which was problematic when someone moves out of State. However, the new legislation has made the certificates valid across the country. It is suggested that the certificate issuing process should be made easier and less time consuming to benefit the persons with disabilities in rural interior parts and from poor and socially marginalized background. It is expected that the new legislation will bring a major change in the process but it is not alone the Government but the organisations and activists in grassroots should work hard for proper implementation of the new legislation.