Date:Feb 21, 2014

Activists divided over provisions of the bill

The ongoing session of the Parliament was the last hope for all those who have been demanding the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill that seeks to broaden the definition of disability. This is the last Parliament session of the Congress-led UPA II government, with Friday as its last day, and the house has not been able to pass the bill.

When the bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha on February 7, one section of the civil society did not wish not to pass the bill while another wanted it to be made into a law at the earliest. The first group is not satisfied with the provisions of the bill; they term it ‘retrograde’ and want it withdrawn. The second section wanted the bill passed as it had taken many years to reach this stage.

Javed Abidi of Disabled Rights Group said, “We are trying hard to get the bill passed. We met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, vice-president of All India Congress Committee Rahul Gandhi, leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha and BJP leader Arun Jaitley”. He added, “They all were willing to pass the bill. Though there is a change in Arun Jaitley’s stance after opposition from one section of people which finds problem in the existing legislation.”

The activist also said that the bill was being opposed because of its flaws. But it is wrong to expect any law or bill to be perfect. Talking about positive aspects, he said that the bill has extended the list of diseases from seven to 19 and now includes cerebral palsy, chronic neurological conditions, mental illness, sickle cell disease, thalassemia and muscular dystrophy besides autism spectrum disorder and blindness.

The bill has also proposed reservation for disabled in public sector and higher education. Reservations in public sector will increase from the existing three per cent to five per cent.

However, those who are opposing the bill are not satisfied with the logic.  According to them, the bill should not be hurried as there is no need for an act which does not fulfill the needs of disabled persons.

On February 18, various organisations engaged in the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, announced the formation of an All India Disability Alliance to ask for a better bill.

“We are criticising UPA government for its lack of seriousness towards millions of disabled across the country. We have reservation against the manner in which the government intends to pass the important legislation,” said Amba Salelkar from Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability Law and Policy, a non-profit working for India’s compliance with UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

She said that the bill, in its present form, “threatens the rights of persons with disabilities” and will undo the support given by Supreme Court. Last year, in October, the apex court had directed central and state government to provide at least three per cent reservation in government’s job for disabled persons. But, the judgement also offered leverage to the government for selecting job profiles especially suitable to the disabled. It means the discrimination will exist even after the bill turns into law. According to the alliance, Section 3 (3) of the bill says that the right against discrimination exists “unless it can be shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The terms “proportionate means” and “legitimate aim” are highly subjective, which can further fuel discrimination.

Need a bill that overrides other discriminatory laws

The alliance pointed out that the bill fails to minimise or repeal the provisions of other existing laws which discriminate against persons with disabilities. All those laws contain applicability clause like a blind person can or cannot do certain jobs. The new bill allows for these legislation to prevail (as they do at present), including involuntary institutionalisation of persons with disabilities and denial of legal capacity to persons with disabilities.

The alliance also alleged that this is the ‘charity model’ of UPA government and is contrary to country’s obligations under UNCRPD.

It was lack of government’s commitment which resulted in tabling an older version of Rights of the Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, because the amendments approved by the Union Cabinet were not printed in time. Citing these facts, the alliance demanded that Parliament should refer the bill to an appropriate parliamentary committee and a discussion and consultation should take place.

P Muralidharan of National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), a collaboration of many NGOs fighting for rights of the disabled, said that the earlier version of the bill (2011-12) was better than the bill that has been tabled now. The activist also alleged that the government has not done anything. The first draft bill of rights for disabled was finalised in 2011. After some issues raised by civil society, the ministry released a draft bill in 2012. It was not as comprehensive as earlier one and it again was opposed by various stakeholders.

Following this, the new draft was circulated to various ministries and states. When it was brought before Parliament in this session, people found many undesired changes had been made.

The process of drafting the new law started over four years back in 2009 when a committee was set up by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. A committee was then mandated to draft a bill for rights of the disabled.

“With election approaching, the government seems in hurry to pass all the bills. Though there is a slight possibility that the bill will get passed amid the chaos, but, if passed, it will not serve the purpose,” he added.

Abidi, however, did not agree, saying identification of jobs has been happening for years now. “I support their demands but it will take time as no miracle is going to happen. SC/STs have not been able to get reservation in private sector after years of demand, so how will the disabled get it. I am saying this is not the end of the road,” he said. Highlighting a positive aspect of the bill, he explained that after 1995, when the first Act on the subject materialised, it was the first phase of our fight, and now the campaign will enter its second phase.

All organizations fighting for jobs for disabled argue that India ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007. With this, it was expected that all the four disability specific legislation—the Mental Health Act 1987, Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 and the National Trust Act 1999 would be made into law by incorporating provisions of UNCRPD.

Though, the government tabled few bills like Mental Health Care Bill, this bill, which was supposed to replace the 1995 Disability Act, was delayed continuously for six years. Despite facing hurdles, the mental health care bill was finally sent to a parliamentary committee.


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