By Nidhi Taparia & Shubhendu Anand
In a session that was otherwise full of disruptions due to a frivolous opposition and its imprudent tactics, the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016 was the only silver lining on the black cloud. The Lok Sabha, where the BJP and its allies enjoy majority, passed it on the very last day of the winter session i.e. December 16, Friday. The Upper House had already approved of it on Wednesday, December 14. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed this as a “landmark moment” that will contribute greatly to the welfare of our society’s specially-abled sections.
The Census of 2011 reported that there were 2.68 crore disabled persons in the country, who constitute around 2 percent of the national population. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, now an Act, will supersede the existing Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. The 1995 Act, which was enacted more than two decades ago, was losing relevance and functionality. Only 7 kinds of disabilities came under the purview of the 1995 PwD Act, sharply limiting its outreach. Countering the obsolescence of its antecedent, the 2016 version of the PwD Act takes into account 21 disabilities. Moreover the government is now authorized to notify any other category of special disability. Among its other highlights, it also increases the reservation in vacancies in government establishments for benchmark disabilities from 3 per cent to 4 per cent. Persons with at least 40% of a disability are entitled to certain benefits such as reservations in education and employment, preference in government schemes, etc. The Act hence, shows the government’s considerateness towards taking up the concerns of our country’s specially-abled citizens and comes with a lot of promise of bringing welfare to them.
Acid attacks have been on a rise in recent years. With the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, acid attack victims are also covered in its ambit. Specific learning disabilities like dyslexia and speech and learning disability have been included for the very first time. Classes or categories have been created, with one of them also taking into account dwarfism and muscular dystrophy. Further, blood disorders like for instance thalassemia, hemophilia and sickle cell disease have been in the form of a new category altogether. All the other seven major disabilities, that the previous Act made mention of, like blindness, mental illness and hearing impairment have been retained. The 2016 Act defines disability as an evolving and dynamic concept. It is, therefore, in the larger interests of the nation, that government has been authorized to notify any other category also.
The Bill was moved by Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Shri Thawar Chand Gehlot who announced that a scheme for a universal identity card for the disabled is also on their cards and an agency has already been finalized for this task. Provisions will be made to link this card with AADHAR to make it more useful and universal.
A plethora of other amendments have also been made on the 2014 Bill. Women and children with disabilities have found a special mention in it and also provides for guardianship granted by District Courts. There will be joint decision making between the persons with disabilities and the guardians. In case of mentally ill persons, district courts may award two types of guardianship. A limited guardian takes decisions jointly with the mentally ill person. A plenary guardian takes decisions on behalf of the mentally ill person, without consulting him. One of the important amendments in the Act is that it imposes putative action against those who are found discriminating against the differently-abled persons. The Act Provides for an imprisonment of at least six months up to two years, along with a fine ranging between Rs 10,000 and five lakh rupees for those indulging in discrimination.
Private firms have been included in the ‘establishments’ definition and they are from now on, entrusted with the responsibility of providing obstacle-free access in buildings, all kinds of public infrastructure and transport systems. The office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities and its state-level counterparts have been strengthened that will function as regulatory bodies and grievance redressal mechanisms.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is the international framework of policies that benchmark concerns of the said people. India, already a signatory to the UNCRPD, will now also conform to it with the coming of the 2016 Act. This makes India’s policies compliant with international standards.
Nidhi Taparia is studying Economics at St. Xavier’s College, Jaipur & Shubhendu Anand is a post-graduate law student at Queen Mary, University of London.