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Sansad TV: 75 Years: Laws that Shaped India- The Rights of Persons with  Disabilities Act, 2016

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Introduction:

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, in short, the RPD Act empowers persons with disability to enjoy the right to equality, and life with dignity, in other words, full and effective participation and inclusion in society.

A landmark step for disabled

  • 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, haemophilia, 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.

Shortcomings of the act

  • 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.

Way forward

  • Although RPWD Act, 2016 is a rights-based legislation, the success of the statute will largely depend on the proactive measures taken by the respective state governments on its implementation.
  • 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.
  • Many disability certificates can now be issued by primary health care doctors after specific training, which will be a boon to many disabled patients in rural areas. However, the disability guidelines should have also given the power of certification to the private practising doctors, so that the shortage of human resources could have been taken care of, with adequate checks and balances.
  • 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.

Conclusion

                Until each of us is firmly committed to the idea of implementing the two fundamental changes sketched above, we will continue to live in an environment in which, even as we sing praises of the disabled who achieve success despite the obstacles placed on their path, we do not pause to reflect on what it is that makes it so hard for them to succeed in the first place and what we can do to reverse this state of affairs.