Many persons with disabilities are jobless and unable to get or denied their paltry pension
Seven-year-old Sadiya lies awake as her parents and siblings, who have just returned from an overnight trip to a dargah, catch up on their sleep. Lying on her back, no taller than an average toddler, she wails when she spots strangers at her door. Sadiya shares the tin-roofed 10 ft by 10 ft space in Devarjeevanahalli with two siblings as her mother, Ahila, expects her fourth. Ms. Ahila and her carpenter husband can ill afford the thousands they spend on medicines every month. Just last month, they spent close to Rs. 12,000 for scans and tests at the Bowring Hospital when little Sadiya came down with severe fits.
It has been four years since they applied for disability pension or welfare. The process has been so futile they stopped following up. But holding her child close to her chest, Ahila says that her deepest regret is that her second-born can’t go to school. With no financial assistance, the anguished mother can’t even begin to imagine arranging for a special school.
Sadly, Sadiya has little to look forward to. For, in her neighbourhood, the thickly populated and predominantly lower socio-economic area of Periyarnagar, scores of persons with disabilities live in abject poverty, with no social cover or State support. Worse, a large number of them, in a cruel welfare cut enforced by the State government, have been denied their social security pensions.
Paltry pension goes
In a bid to detect bogus beneficiaries of the disability pensions scheme — where a paltry Rs. 400 is paid to those certified with less than 75 per cent disability, and Rs. 1,000 for the others — names of over 1.6 lakh of the 6 lakh beneficiaries were deleted from the list in the drive that commenced in February 2011.
Devapriyam’s is one such case. Wheelchair-bound since he lost both limbs to polio, the 26-year-old is dependent on his aging parents, and sometimes sells plastic toys near his house for a living. The Rs. 1,000 he got every month was his sole steady income, which just about covered his medical expenses. Despite repeated applications, the Directorate of Social Security and Pensions has failed to respond to his pleas to reinstate the pension.
Just down the lane, there is a similar case. The pension of Kusuma (35) was stopped four months ago. She lives with her brother Velu, a tile worker, who insists that taking care of her “is not a problem”. But he adds that the Rs. 400 was a “welcome help” in these tough economic times. With both limbs crippled and mostly immobile, Ms. Kusuma’s disability has been classified as under 75 per cent.
Many others The Hindu spoke with complained of erratic disbursal of pensions, applications that have been pending for years and unscientific or unfair medical certifications. Officials at the Directorate of Disabled confirmed that there was a “mix-up” in pensions for the disabled in the State. Every day, the directorate receives at least 20 'genuine complaints' where the beneficiaries have been denied their due, officials concede.
In Bangalore Urban district, as of September, 10,579 persons with disabilities receive Rs. 400 a month, while 9,130 get Rs. 1,000. Most of the deletions from the list were in the second category. Official sources say that too many beneficiaries had been added “in too little time”, forcing them to undertake a “re-verification drive”. But complaints pouring in from across the State prove that this drive has been unscientific and all too random.
To make things worse, the State government, earlier this year, decided to cap the number of beneficiaries to be provided welfare cover. For a city as populous as Bangalore, the number for 2012 was randomly pegged at around 900. After intense lobbying from disability rights groups, and state-wide protests, this decision was reversed. However, activists point out that despite the government order removing the cap on fresh additions, no fresh pensions have been sanctioned.
Further, the Union government announced a hike of Rs. 100 in pensions in the 2012 Budget, but till date no hike has been enforced in the State, officials confirmed. Disability rights activists have for long argued that welfare pensions for persons with disabilities must be a universal scheme, rather than a targeted one only for those identified as living Below the Poverty Line (BPL).
What about jobs?
The state welfare net is crucial for persons with disabilities, particularly because there is little scope for employment in the public or private sector. Take Chandar, a resident of Shivajinagar. At 22, he sounds despondent, even angry. He calls himself a “burden”, for now on his aging father, a mason, and then on his brother, a commerce graduate now looking for a job. Chandar dropped out in third standard, and when asked if he wishes he'd studied more, he flinches. “Who'd give me a job even if I did,” he asks, pointing once again at his stunted limbs, both of which he lost in an accident as a child. The promise of education is lost on scores of differently-abled people like Chander simply because the hard truth is that there are very few jobs.
The State government’s track record on all the other schemes or legal provisions made under the People With Disabilities Act (1995) is poor. For instance, the committee set up to identify government jobs for persons with disabilities had not met for nine years, points out State Commissioner for Disabilities K.V. Rajanna. After it was issued a notice, the Department of Women and Child Development has restarted the exercise to identify jobs.
The legal provision of 'identifying jobs' itself has been criticised by activists, who feel that it reinforces a bias in the system, and impacts the total pool of jobs made available to people with disabilities. This is one of the criticisms of the new draft 'Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2012' that seeks to replace the 1995 Act. That they have retained the provision to identify “suitable” jobs puts the entire decision in the hands of a bureaucrat who then decides what a disabled person is or is not capable of doing, points of Javed Abidi, founder of the Disability Rights Group. “This is unacceptable, and we are trying to get this changed.”
Meanwhile, no records exist on the number of persons with disabilities working in government service in Karnataka. Under the PWD Act, three per cent of public sector jobs must be reserved for disabled persons in the A and B categories (senior officials), and 5 per cent in C and D categories. There is no political or bureaucratic will in the government to comply with this simple requirement, says G.N. Nagaraj, president of the Karnataka State Disabled and Care Givers Federation. “The public sector alone can give a real boost to the disability sector, and will encourage young disabled persons to get an education,” he says. The proposed Bill envisages 5 per cent reservation in the public sector and incentivises private employers to hire persons with disabilities. Rights activists have welcomed this approach, and hope it will be a real game changer for disabled people in the country.
Annual budgetary allocations that are made for inclusion, education and rehabilitation programmes are not used effectively. For instance, in Bangalore, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike's funds for the disabled have been languishing. For instance, only Rs. 92 lakh of the allocation of Rs 4.4 crore was used in 2009-2010, while in 2010-2011 less than Rs. 20 lakh of the total Rs. 12 crore allocated was used, points out Mr. Rajanna.
The PWD Act mandates that municipal and urban local bodies use three per cent of their annual budgets for rehabilitation and inclusion programmes for the disabled.While the BBMP cites administrative reasons for this, the fact is that for the over 90 lakh population in the city, the BBMP has only one District Disability Welfare Officer. The Disability Commissioner has suggested an increase of staff in this section, and appointment of nodal officer in all the eight zones.