In holding that people suffering from disability are entitled to the same benefits and relaxations as candidates belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Supreme Court has recognised the travails of the disabled in accessing education or employment, regardless of their social status.
Even though drawn from all sections of society, those suffering from the several categories of disability recognised by law have always been an under-privileged and under-represented section, a fact noticed in official studies in the past.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)
The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in December 2006 and it came into force on in May 2008.
The convention seeks to engage member countries in developing and carrying out policies, laws and administrative measures for securing the rights recognized in the Convention and abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination.
It requires countries to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers and ensure that persons with disabilities can access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, and information and communications technologies.
Constitutional Frameworks for Differently abled in India:
Article 41 of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) states that State shall make effective provision for securing right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, within the limits of its economic capacity and development.
The subject of ‘relief of the disabled and unemployable’ is specified in state list of the Seventh Schedule of the constitution.
Delhi High Court already given judgement of equal status in 2012:
- Recently, the top court ruled that the Delhi High Court had correctly decided in 2012 that “people suffering from disabilities are also socially backward, and are therefore, at the very least, entitled to the same benefits as given to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes candidates”.
- Therefore, it took the view that when SC/ST candidates get a relaxation of a certain percentage of marks to qualify for admission, the same relaxation shall apply to disabled candidates too.
- In the 2012 case before the High Court, a university had allowed a 10% concession in the minimum eligibility requirement for SC/ST candidates, and 5% concession for disabled applicants.
- The High Court ruled against this differential treatment, terming it discriminatory.
- The larger principle behind this was that without imparting proper education to those suffering from disabilities, “there cannot be any meaningful enforcement of their rights” both under the Constitution and the then prevailing 1995 legislation on providing equal opportunities to the disabled and protecting their rights.
- It can only be more applicable, now that a fresh law that aims for a greater transformative effect, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, is in place.
Recent Legislation: Right of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016:
It becomes the duty of the Union, states as well as Union Territories to take up the matter.
It is also important to ensure that all government buses are disabled friendly in accordance with the harmonized guidelines.
- Disability has been defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept.
- The types of disabilities have been increased from 7 to 21. The act added mental illness, autism, spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, chronic neurological conditions, speech and language disability, thalassemia, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, multiple disabilities including deaf blindness, acid attack victims and Parkinson’s disease which were largely ignored in earlier act. In addition, the Government has been authorized to notify any other category of specified disability.
- It increases the quantum of reservation for people suffering from disabilities from 3% to 4% in government jobs and from 3% to 5% in higher education institutes.
- Every child with benchmark disability between the age group of 6 and 18 years shall have the right to free education.
- Government funded educational institutions as well as the government recognized institutions will have to provide inclusive education.
- Stress has been given to ensure accessibility in public buildings in a prescribed time frame along with Accessible India Campaign.
- The Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities and the State Commissioners will act as regulatory bodies and Grievance Redressal agencies, monitoring implementation of the Act.
- A separate National and State Fund be created to provide financial support to the persons with disabilities.
Critics view regarding making equal treatment between differently abled and SC/ST’s:
- A counterpoint to the idea of eliminating the distinction between the disabled and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes may arise from those questioning the attempt to equate physical or mental disability with the social disability and experience of untouchability suffered by marginalised sections for centuries.
- For instance, the social background of disabled persons from a traditionally privileged community may gave them an advantage over those suffering from historical social disability.
- However, this may not always be the case. The Delhi High Court had cited the abysmally low literacy and employment rates among persons with disabilities.
- Educational indicators captured in the 2001 Census showed that illiteracy among the disabled was much higher than the general population figure.
- The share of disabled children out of school was quite higher than other major social categories.
- The 2001 Census put the illiteracy rate among the disabled at 51%. There was similar evidence of their inadequate representation in employment too.
Programmes/initiatives for Disabled in India:
Accessible India Campaign: Creation of Accessible Environment for PwDs:
- A nation-wide flagship campaign for achieving universal accessibility that will enable persons with disabilities to gain access for equal opportunity and live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life in an inclusive society.
- The campaign targets at enhancing the accessibility of built environment, transport system and Information & communication ecosystem.
DeenDayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme: Under the scheme financial assistance is provided to NGOs for providing various services to Persons with Disabilities, like special schools, vocational training centres, community-based rehabilitation, pre-school and early intervention etc
Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase / fitting of Aids and Appliances (ADIP): The Scheme aims at helping the disabled persons by bringing suitable, durable, scientifically-manufactured, modern, standard aids and appliances within their reach.
- National Fellowship for Students with Disabilities (RGMF)
- The scheme aims to increase opportunities to students with disabilities for pursuing higher education.
- Under the Scheme, 200 Fellowships per year are granted to students with disability.
- Schemes of the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities.
Many think that persons selected under reserved categories, especially under the differently abled category, are not meritorious candidates and their selection brings down the quality of institutions in which they are selected.
If this mindset prevails, we must expect the systemic violation of disability reservation to continue.
The 2016 law sought to address this by raising the quota for the disabled from 3% to 5% and envisaging incentives for the private sector to hire them too.
It is vital that this is fully given effect to so that this significant segment of the population is not left out of social and economic advancement.