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New Disability Rights Bill in India

7 March 2014
Posted by Akhil Paul

Akhil Paul

Politics and opportunism has entered the arena and with general elections around the corner, the current draft of the Rights of People with Disabilities Bill has become a big political issue in India.

I was a member of the committee which submitted the draft of the Bill in 2012 and it was discussed by stakeholders throughout the country. The Bill, which is currently with a Parliamentary Committee, aims to give disabled people equal rights. However, from the start it has faced many obstacles and we saw many differing opinions within the sector.

One group is of the opinion that the Bill is disjointed and needs serious reworking before it can be enacted. However, the other standpoint is that the Bill may not be perfect but at least it recognises and provides progress to those people with disabilities (such as autism, deafblind, intellectual disabilities, or mental health problems) who were not included in the earlier 1995 Act.

However, it is important to highlight that the current version of the Bill has changed from the earlier draft and in particular the terms of reference, which is designed to ensure that the newly recognised persons with disabilities obtain all the entitlements they need.

The needs of people with newly recognised disabilities are very diverse, hence the definition 'reasonable accommodation' would have been the tool to ensure that they get what they need, and the denial of which could have been recognised as discrimination. This provision was needed because unlike 'accessibility' which looks into disabled-friendly features built in to the environment, goods and services, transport and communication,t the 'reasonable accommodation' definition deals with the needs of individual persons with disabilities - be it a particular kind of work/equipment/ furniture or flexibility of time and workplace. Whilst the proposed Bill of 2012 had this provision as a right, the Bill of 2014 only places an obligation on the government to ensure this.

In addition, the new law does not overrule existing disqualifications in other laws. Instead it states that the provision of the law will be in addition and not in supersession of existing laws, which means that all the existing laws by which persons with disabilities are disqualified from exercising their rights would survive. In the face of those provisions, it would be difficult for the newly-included persons with disabilities to gain new work and entitlements.

Sadly, with all these difficulties, I have come to the conclusion that this version of the Bill is going to hit the newly recognised conditions of autism, deafblind, intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities, very severely. Although they will be recognised and included in the Act, they will not have any guaranteed right to education, employment or legal capacity and every entitlement will have to be contested in the court of law.

There are many like me in the disability sector who have now started to prepare for a long haul because whether the Bill passes or not, continued advocacy and campaigning will be needed. If there is a new Bill, we will have to work on ensuring a non-negotiable foundation and in case of no Bill, we will have to restart the drafting process. It is a long road ahead.

Akhil Paul is Director of Sense International (India)

 

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First published: Friday 7 June 2013
Last updated: Thursday 18 September 2014