By Geetanjali Debi
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014 has been drafted to give effect to the United tions Convention on the Rights of persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The Bill is composed of 17 chapters, 117 Sections and 1 Schedule. The benchmark legislation for the disabled persons in India is the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PwD Act, 1995 hereifter). The Act of 1995 has identified only seven categories of disabilities-blindness, low vision, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation, mental illness and leprosy-cured. Quite surprisingly, in the Bill of 2014 nineteen specified disabilities have been identified. The disabilities are—autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, chronic neurological conditions, deaf-blindness, haemophilia, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, leprosy-cured, locomotor disability, low-vision, mental illness, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, specific learning disability, thalassemia, multiple disability and sickle cell disease. This is, indeed, a leap forward from the Act of 1995 because identification of the disabled persons is the first step in the process of emancipating the disabled persons.
The various rights and entitlements incorporated in the Bill of 2014 include-equality and non-discrimition, right to live in the community, protection from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, protection from abuse, violence and exploitation, right to have a home and family, reproductive rights, access to justice and accessibility in voting. The appropriate government-Central or State government-is duty bound to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to suitable information pertaining to reproductive and family planning. The Bill, further, states that a medical procedure which leads to infertility cannot be imposed on a disabled person without the free consent of such a person. Accessibility in voting and access to justice has been provided by the Bill. The Central and State Election Commission have been entrusted with the task of creating barrier-free environment at all the polling stations for the disabled persons.
The Bill also states that the persons with disabilities have the right to access to any court, tribul, authority, commission, or any other body having judicial or quasi-judicial or investigative powers without discrimition on the basis of disability. The tiol and the State Legal Services Authorities shall make provisions for accessibility of the disabled persons including reasoble accommodation. Apart, the public documents should be in accessible format. Duties and responsibilities of the appropriate governments have been enumerated.
Inclusive education is the need of the hour. Educatiol institutions should be designed and constructed in such a manner so that both the normal and disabled students can receive education together. Exclusive attitude will widen the hiatus between the disabled and non-disabled population more and more. The Bill directs the appropriate government to introduce inclusive education especially in those educatiol institutions funded by them. Children with disabilities should be admitted without any kind of discrimition. Moreover, the Bill also speaks about facilities like supply of books, other learning materials and assistive devices, scholarships for children with benchmark disabilities, recreation, barrier-free campus, apt modes of communication, conveyance, participation, establishment of teacher-training institutions. Another unique feature of the Bill is Adult education for persons with disabilities and continuing education programmes. This feature is absent in the PwD Act of 1995.
Chapter IV of the Bill deals with skill development and employment. Education, empowerment and employment are the three fundamental necessities in the process of emancipation. Specific emphasis has been laid on vocatiol training and self-employment juxtaposed by the provision for loans at concessiol rates to facilitate and support employment. Non-discrimition in employment and congenial atmosphere at workplace has also been dwelled upon. Every establishment is required to maintain records which are to be inspected from time to time by appropriate government. The Bill, further, mentions the appointment of Grievance Redressal Officer who will be empowered to investigate complaints related to disabled persons. If the disabled person is not satisfied, then he or she may approach the District-Level Committee on Disability.
Social security, health, rehabilitation and recreation, special provisions for persons with benchmark disabilities and special provisions for persons with disabilities with high support needs are covered by chapters 5, 6 and 7 respectively. Free education for children with benchmark disabilities, reservation in higher educatiol institutions, identification of posts for reservation, incentives to employees in private sector like at least 5% of the workforce should be composed of persons with benchmark disabilities and special employment exchange are provided by the Bill of 2014. Social audit is to be carried out the appropriate government in order to find out that the schemes and programmes for the disabled persons do adversely affect the disabled persons.
The Bill also speaks about access to information and communication technology. The contents in audio, print and electronic media should be in accessible format. Bus stops, railway stations and airports should be disabled friendly. Time limitation has been laid down for making existing infrastructure and premises accessible and action for that purpose. The Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) and the appropriate government shall endeavour to develop human resource in order to implement the provisions of the Bill.
The Bill directs the establishment of monitoring bodies like Central and State Advisory Boards on Disability (stakeholders will be given opportunities for participation in policy making) and District level Committee, tiol and State Commissions for Persons with Disabilities, Special Courts for every district and Special Public Prosecutor for Persons with Disabilities. There shall also be a tiol Fund for Persons with Disabilities. Finces are to be received by way of grants, gifts, dotions, benefactions and bequests or transfers.
Chapter XVI deals with offences and pelties. Pelties for offences committed against persons with disabilities have been spelled out. Two years imprisonment along with a fine of not less than Rs.50, 000 has been provided as pelty for contravention of the provisions of the Bill or rules or regulations made thereunder. Even companies who commit such acts are not to be spared by the Bill of 2014. Pelty for fraudulently availing any benefit meant for persons with benchmark disabilities have been provided for. Punishment for failure to furnish information has also been mentioned under the Bill.
The Bill of 2014 is indeed a mammoth achievement for the legislation. It has taken the aspect of disability to a different dimension altogether. Hence, the Bill should receive President’s assent so that it can be implemented promptly.
(The writer teaches law in University Law College, Gauhati University)