Insights into Editorial: The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – Rights Issue
By passing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, the Parliament has adopted a radically transformative piece of legislation that addresses the concerns of arguably the most marginalised section of Indian society.
The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population is affected by one disability or another. Exclusion of disabled persons from the labour market leads to an annual loss of approximately 3-7% of the GDP. According to Census 2011, India is home to 26.8 million people with disabilities and that is a huge underestimation.
About the new Bill:
The new law, when enacted, will repeal the old Disability Act, 1995, and usher the Indian disability movement into a new age, where disability itself will be defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept.
- It increases the number of recognised disabilities from 7 to 21. With this, the official count will obviously also rise and as per conservative estimates, that figure could be as high as 70-100 million.
- It lays down provisions to allow the central government to notify any other condition as a disability. Now individuals with at least 40% of a disability are also entitled to benefits such as reservations in education and employment, preference in government schemes and others.
- The bill sets the government a two-year deadline to ensure persons with disability get barrier-free access in all kinds of physical infrastructure and transport systems.
- It recognises the need for reservation for them in promotion and makes special mention of the rights of disabled women and children. It defines many terms vague in previous versions, including what constitutes discrimination.
- A penalty will also be slapped for violating the rules of the Act. The 1995 Act did not have any such penal provision. However, 2014 Bill had made violation of any provision of the Act punishable with a jail term of up to 6 months, and/or a fine of Rs 10,000.
What’s missing in the new Bill?
- The Bill strangely makes the clauses on non-discrimination in employment mandatory only in government establishments.
- The Bill continues with the 1995 act’s provision of having a chief commissioner and state commissioners. Neither the commissioners nor any of the members of their advisory committees are required to be Persons with Disabilities.
- Despite a Supreme Court judgment in 2013 that reservations should be decided on the basis of the total number of vacancies in a particular cadre, rather than the posts identified by the government to be filled by persons with benchmark disabilities, the bill has stuck to the latter.
- Also, like it does for the institutions wanting to be registered as ones for PWDs, the bill does not specify the time frame for a certificate of disability to be issued. This gives PWDs no way to address the trials and tribulations they face when tackling the bureaucracy in receiving what has been their right for years now.
- The amended bill does define public buildings and public facilities and services towards making such infrastructure accessible to PWDs in a “barrier-free” manner. However, for all the benefits that this bill strives to provide, basic issues of accessibility, including to information and communication technology, and certification of disability remain a distant unfulfilled dream in the absence of any political will.
Considering the sociocultural prejudices against them, and the inability, rather the refusal, to keep in mind the needs of PWDs, this bill, as was the fate of the 1995 act, will go only so far to ensure for them the rights that should have been a given. Till they are treated as second-class citizens, and not recognised as capable individuals in their own right, India will continue to be an unjust and inequitable society.
It is time to leverage this vast human capital. It is hoped that the proposed new law, a robust rights-based legislation with a strong institutional mechanism, shall ensure enjoyment of rights by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with the non-disabled citizens of India. The disability sector has been waiting for this law patiently for the last several years. The new law would be a game changer if the above mentioned concerns are addressed.