The Sunday Story A Marathon struggle for a level playing field. India waits for a new law to empower its disabled people. The existing law, the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, has failed to provide them a better quality of life. A new law with teeth alone can bring about change. The spirit of the disabled remains high as they continue with their campaign.

The light at the end of the tunnel for India’s 100 million people with disabilities appears to be getting closer as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment made public the latest version of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill.

This Bill which seeks to replace the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, attempts to bring India in line with the 21 century understanding of the rights of persons with disabilities as captured in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) ratified by India.

This version of the Bill is the last in a series of versions that were made public by the Ministry over the last two years.

There are some major differences between this version and earlier versions and the changes proposed are a mixed bag - some progressive and some regressive ones. Given below are some of the more significant changes in the new version.

The Good

This new clause seeking to ‘reward’ the employment of persons with disabilities states that any employer with 20 or more employees of whom more than 5 per cent are disabled, shall be eligible to deduct from his taxable income, an amount equal to the salary of the disabled employees above the 5 per cent. For example, if an employer has 100 employees of whom 6 are disabled, he will be able to deduct from his taxable income an amount equal to the salary paid to the 6 person with disability. On the other hand if less than 5 per cent of the total employee strength comprises persons with disabilities, the employer shall be required to add to his taxable income an amount equivalent to the salary of employees to the extent of the shortfall in the 5 per cent. This is a good addition and should lead to much higher integration in the workplace.

The Bad

While the earlier version of the Bill lays almost equal emphasis on special schools (catering only to children with disabilities) and inclusive schools (catering to all children in a common environment), the new version appears to strongly support the integration of children with disabilities into an inclusive education framework. As per the new version all educational institutions funded or recognized by the government have a duty to provide inclusive education. While in theory this is the correct move and is mandated by the UNCRPD, this approach is risky since there is no transition plan to move a set up with adequate numbers of trained teachers and proper infrastructure. Without such a plan, it is likely that an entire generation of persons with some types of disabilities such as children who are deaf-blind (requiring specialized training) and children in wheelchairs (requiring accessible infrastructure) who join the ill-equipped mainstream school system immediately after enactment will be lost in the cracks and get no education whatsoever. The government must address this and elaborate the long term strategy for inclusive education.

The ugly

This new clause provides that reservation for persons with disabilities shall be only for the specific posts that are expressly identified by the concerned authority. Thus, even if a person is able to do the work required for a particular post, he will be ineligible unless it is specifically reserved. This is highly controversial and violates UNCRPD principles since it presumes, wrongly, that persons with disabilities can only perform some jobs or tasks. This provision must be deleted.

The government should relook the flawed parts and seriously consider the input from the disability sector before finalising the Bill.

(The author is with the Inclusive Planet Centre for Disability Law and Policy, and has expertise in disability law, intellectual property law and technology law.)

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