The draft bill on the rights of persons with disabilities — intended to replace the 1995 law — is a daring attempt to combat historically-rooted discrimination based on a person’s disability through legal guarantees of equality of opportunity. The wide-ranging commitments in the area of employment are but one instance of an attempt at inclusion and empowerment. Foremost is the increase, up to five per cent, in the proportion of reservation in recruitment to all government employment. The two percentage point increase is perhaps appropriate, considering the greater number of disabilities that are to be accorded protection under the new law. There is also a private sector corollary to quotas in the form of incentives and disincentives for firms that hire disabled employees and those that do not. Establishments that comprise more than five per cent of the workforce from this category would be allowed to deduct the salaries of every additional employee from their taxable earnings. Conversely, those that fall below the prescribed minimum would be required to add to their taxable income an amount equivalent to the shortfall.

The draft bill makes provision for the identification of posts suitable for disabled candidates and also for periodic review. While the identification of positions may raise awareness among employers on suitable avenues to create openings, this could also prove potentially restrictive, say, when applicants have the prerequisites for positions that are not listed. The new law should instead reflect current policy, wherein government departments are free to make additions, but not deletions, from a pre-determined catalogue of jobs appropriate for disabled aspirants. Such freedom and flexibility would be necessary to overcome procedural shortcomings that may hamper the disabled from taking advantage of new openings. Similarly, the current rotation system should be modified in a manner that vacancies do not lapse just because a candidate with a particular disability was not available. All such self-defeating procedures should give way to more proactive policy adjustments. The underlying objective of the proposed change is to harmonise current law with the letter and spirit of the 2007 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — one which India was among the earliest to ratify. While initiatives in the arena of employment can critically alter the lives of the disabled, the extent of their realisation would depend on the provision of quality education and universal access. It is time the Centre moved towards expeditious enactment of the new legislation.

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