The Centre's foot-dragging on enacting a new law to give effect to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is inexplicable, considering especially that India was among the earliest to ratify it in 2007. First, the administration toyed with the idea of amending the existing 1995 Act, while the stakeholders pointed out that the Convention marked a big change in fundamentals and that compliance with it warranted a new legislation. For instance, the definition of ‘disability' stands enlarged to cover all long-term physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory impairments that hinder equal and effective participation in society. This requires extending legal protection to categories not covered by the existing law and specifying in the statute all the fundamental rights and freedoms the disabled are entitled to under the Convention.

Then, in April this year, a committee was constituted to draft a new legislation and it was asked to give the report in four months. It soon ran into trouble over the question of giving due representation to all the stakeholders in keeping with the motto “nothing about us without us.” Now, the panel has sought time until March to produce the draft bill. The net result of all this is that an Indian law based on the UN Convention may not be in place even in 2011, four years after ratification. As a consequence, the government would be unable to submit the mandatory periodic implementation report to the Convention monitoring committee. A World Bank estimate puts the population of the disabled in India in the region of 40-80 million and among the most disadvantaged in education, employment, and social inclusiveness. The number is bound to increase, given the rising trend in traffic accidents and age-related impairments. The government will have to act with a greater sense of urgency to put the new legal framework in place because it is a basic requisite for the disabled to improve their productive capacities and claim full citizenship.

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