The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, (PWDA) has completed two decades of its existence.
- In 1992, India adopted the Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Region. As a signatory of this proclamation, this act was enacted by the Parliament of India to safe guard the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWD).
What is ‘disability’, according to the act?
In this act disability is defined as blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, loco-motor disability, mental retardation and mental illness.
Highlights of the Act:
- The act calls for the forming of two central committees and two state committees: The central coordination committee and the central executive committee; the state coordination committee and the state executive committee.
- The act calls for the government to take the necessary steps to ensure the prevention of disabilities. In accordance with this agenda, the government must screen all the children at least once a year to determine risk factors that lead to disability and attempt to protect the child from such factors. It is also necessary for the state to take measure to reduce risks to prenatal and post natal mothers and child.
- According to this act, children with disabilities should be provided free education by the appropriate government. The government must take steps to integrate children with disabilities into regular schools, but also make space for special schools that cater expressly to the needs of these children.
- In addition to the basic education schools, government are also required to make non-formal education programmes for children with disabilities that help attain literacy, rejoin school, impart vocational training, and provide them with free books and educational material.
- The government is also responsible for making the general environment non-discriminatory towards PWD by adapting and adding to railways, buses, road signals pavement slopes, warning signals, building ramps, Braille signs and auditory signals, etc.
- The act also provides for non-discrimination of PWD in employment that can be taken up by them, in government and non-government offices.
- The act calls for the appointment of a chief commissioner who will hear complaints or pleas made with regard to the deprivation of rights of PWD.
However, even after two decades, the majority of disabled people are yet to avail the entitlements envisaged under the law.
- Inaccessible public places, non-accommodative educational institutions and the lack of employment opportunities for the disabled are widespread.
- The Act makes it mandatory for the government to provide 3% reservation to the disabled in public employment. But, the percentage of disabled employees in groups A, B and C services is 0.18, 0.37 and 0.18% respectively.
- Governments at the Centre and in the states did set up several employment exchanges and conduct special recruitment drives, but the required 3% reservation is still far from being implemented in many departments.
- The majority of state governments, such as Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, which account for the largest proportion of the disabled, are biased against employing educated disabled candidates.
- Several states have not undertaken any research to ascertain the woes of the disabled. And there are no penal provisions for those who violate the PWDA.
Although the PWDA is marred by loopholes, its existence has ushered in a new wave of advocacy and activism. Despite the PWDA’s weak implementation, it has empowered some among the disabled. They have attained respectful employment.
- The greater visibility of persons with disabilities in the public domain has brought about a noticeable change in the attitude of non-disabled citizens about the capabilities of such persons, which shows the PWDA has allowed disabled people to seek dignified livelihoods hard to come by earlier.
- A number of NGOs have sprouted to fight for the rights of disabled people. Several public interest litigations (PILs) were filed in high courts and the apex court to demand the implementation of provisions under the PWDA.
- The Supreme Court, in its landmark judgment on October 8, 2013, had reprimanded the Indian state for not abiding by the law and consigning millions of disabled to the margins.
- Thus, owing to the judiciary’s intervention and progressive interpretation of the law, the Central government has committed itself to fulfilling the quota by February 2016. But the larger hurdle is posed by states, where the bureaucracy is not aware of the law.
What needs to be done?
- Most people who got jobs under the 3% provision live in urban areas. The PWDA’s fruits have not percolated to the most marginalised among the disabled.
- Disabled women, SCs and STs in rural India are still at the margins, with most still dependent on family members for survival. Government services and information related to welfare schemes and educational and employment opportunities hardly reach them.
- Therefore, governments at the Centre and in states need to focus on how to reach persons with disabilities in rural India. Sufficient financial allocation and strict monitoring of the PWDA’s implementation can empower the disabled in a substantive sense.
Empowering those with disabilities can’t be restricted to the social justice ministry. It must necessarily involve all government agencies and verticals. Similarly, building public infrastructure that’s disability friendly can’t be executed in isolation. In this regard, the government’s plan to rate public and private companies for disabled-friendly initiatives as part of the ‘Accessible India’ campaign is a step in the right direction. The public sector too must do its bit to empower the differently abled. Also required is a change in mindset so that the differently abled are viewed as a demographic resource. Only then will integrated solutions to their problems follow.