Guest Post by AVINASH SHAHI
Arguably, the Narendra Modi-led NDA II government in the country seems least interested in addressing the woes of disabled people. Such indifference is not surprising. When the campaigning for the 16th Lok Sabha elections was at its peak, Mr Modi thundered from the podium that the “country does not want a deaf and dumb handicapped government”. His irresponsible reference to disability could have potentially accentuateed negative attitudes against the disabled. Fearing such a possibility and upholding their right to dignity as disabled persons, this group strongly condemned his statement.
After Modi became Prime Minister of the country in last May, the government announced a slew of ambitious initiatives for the disabled people. The most promising one was the Unique Identity Card which was to end the necessity of producing one’s disability certificate for availing government services. It is pertinent to note here that the Persons with Disabilities 1995 Act will complete two decades of its existence this year; however the sixty per cent of genuine disabled people are yet to obtain disability certificates. To make matters worse, non-disabled people are running a till-now-unchecked and thriving disability racket to grab employment under the disability quota. How much progress has been achieved on the Unique ID Card is best known to the bureaucrats. But persons with disabilities still undergo the daily ordeal of running from pillar to post to secure that prized piece of paper.
In its first full-fledged budget in July 2014, the government also allocated funds to establish the National Institute of Inclusive Design: it vowed to issue Indian currency with Braille signage: promised to establish a Centre for Disability Sports. But none of those promises have been fulfilled. The government held one initial meeting with the stake-holders to find ways to make currency accessible, but the stalemate continues. The setting up of the Centre for Disability Sports and the Institute for Universal and Inclusive Design are also stuck due to delay in the finalization of sites in the proposed states. Owing to bureaucratic apathy, these commitments seem hollow and are unlikely to be met on the set deadlines.
In the last few months, the central government has expressed its willingness to address the core objectives of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. As a result, It has launched an Accessible India Campaign to spread awareness and arouse awakening among masses on the accessibility needs of the disabled. The government aims to develop a mobile app which could be used by disabled people to register complain against inaccessible public building. In the first phase, This campaign will be launched in mega metros. In order to provide teeth to the ambitious goal of ‘accessible’ India, government should allocate more funds to strengthen the campaign. It should be noted here that in the Finance Budget presented in the February 2015, no allocation was proposed for making India accessible. Smart Cities were proposed however how these inaccessible cities could be smartly build for persons with disabilities is hardly discussed.
For persons with disabilities, finding employment is the biggest challenge. Over the last two decades, the central governments have merely recruited 5,000 employees with disabilities in its establishments. The inherent negative bias against the disabled people restricts their induction in the workforce. The PWD Act 1995 mandates 3 per cent reservation in employment for persons with disabilities. On October 8 2013, The Apex Court pronounced a landmark verdict directing the central government to fulfill 3 per cent jobs in all government establishments within the stipulated time. When the government’s approach seemed inactive, the National Federation of the Blind India (main petitioner in the case), filed the contempt petition in the Supreme Court. The Apex Court while dealing with the petition has reprimanded the government. As per a report published in the Deccan Herald on 25 May 2015, government is planning to bring special recruitment drive to fulfill the long overdue backlogs by February 2016. One could hope that in the next hearing scheduled on 7 July 2015 Court would direct the government to fulfill the quota within 3 months.
Given the government’s incomprehensible delays in making key appointments, the disability sector has been hit hard. Over the last six months, the post of Chief Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) is lying vacant. The CCPD draws authority from the PWD Act 1995 and acts as Civil Court judge who is entrusted powers to protect and safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities. In the absence of fulltime Commissioner, The secretary of the recently renamed disability department is holding the additional charge of CCPD. In inordinately delaying the appointment of fulltime Chief Commissioner, the government betrays its lack of seriousness about protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. It should soon appoint CCPD at the office.
Thus, the first year of Modi-led NDA II has not brought any substantive change in the lives of persons with disabilities. The government needs to walk the talk. People with disabilities are equally entitled to be accorded equal attention by the elected government. The government should abandon its patronizing attitude against disabled people;And should treat them as equal citizens of the country. One could hope that in the second year of its tenure, government will focus more on executing plans than announcing more schemes without taking stocks of the previous ones.
[Avinash Shahi is a Doctoral Student at Centre for Law and Governance, JNU]