GUWAHATI: The Social Welfare Department, Government of Assam in collaboration with Shishu Sarothi has taken up a Programme for Awareness Generation on Disability and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 under Section 39 of the said Act. Since the enactment of the RPwD Act, this was the first such awareness initiative was taken up by any State Government at such a large scale, in the country.
Jishnu Baruah, Addl. C.S., Social Welfare Department, GOA made the opening remarks citing the directions of the Apex Court with regard to mandatory compliance of various provisions of the RPwD Act and he also gave a brief outline of the proposed plan with a series of state, zonal and district level programs with various stakeholders including officials and persons with disabilities.
Setting the context of the Awareness Campaign program, Ketaki Bardalai, Executive Director, Shishu Sarothi said that the RPWD Act is a game-changing law ushering in a paradigm shift to the rights perspective and that while Social Welfare Department plays a crucial role in taking affirmative action, the onus lies with other key departments of the government to enable and empower persons with disabilities by ensuring access to various rights – from health, to education, employment, and access.
She urged that the Assam State Rules under the RPwD Act has to be notified as soon as possible. As of July, 2019, some 19 states have notified the said Rules, including 4 north eastern states. (NE states who have not notified the Rules as yet are Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim). Focus was drawn on important issues of continued violation of accessibility requirements in infrastructure, roads, transport as well as in information despite various enabling circulars and guidelines of different central ministries. Besides, Bardalai also highlighted other concerns about issuance of disability certificates for all the 21 specified disabilities, inadequacies in ensuring quality inclusive education, reservations in educational institutions, limited access to quality healthcare, no facility for rehabilitation/shelter homes for abandoned persons with disabilities and so on.
Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP) thereafter spoke on the key role of departments in ensuring awareness of the RPwD Act and said that lack of awareness on issues around disability is one of the biggest issues to address. He said that the RPwD made such powerful provisions like non-discrimination as a right and also laid specific timelines for complying with accessibility mandate, and the need for service providers to also abide by the same. He emphasised on the inclusion of the private sector within the regulatory framework and observed that as far as education goes, there should be a zero rejection policy for admission of children with disabilities into regular schools. He also observed that awareness with judiciary would also play a very important role in ensuring sensitization on the innumerable challenges faced by people with disabilities in accessing justice.
Alok Kumar, the Chief Secretary, Govt. of Assam chaired the meeting and gave valuable inputs on how to take the awareness generation initiative forward. Several actionable points arose from the discussions, including the need for GMDA to amend the Building Bye-Laws and concerned authorities to amend the Schedule of Rates (SOR) to make it compliable with the ‘Harmonised Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier-Free Built Environment for Persons with Disability and Elderly Persons’ and ensuring accessibility for person with disabilities, coming up with key interventions required to address issues of persons with disabilities in accessing justice, improving the disability certification processes and teacher sensitisation. He lead the discussion department wise, vis-a-vis taking up the concerns and responsibilities of different departments and called upon the Social Welfare Department and Shishu Sarothi to identify the gaps and challenges in implementing the law to ensure rights of persons with disabilities and follow up such exercises with the departments respectively.