I’m glad to see the Standing Committee has recommended for extending the definition of ‘establishment’ to the private sector also. However,while discussing the clause on Special Employment exchange, The committee again provides patronizing suggestion: “The Committee also want the Ministry to consider the feasibility of renaming such an exchange as “Employment Exchange for Differently Able People” as it appears more progressive and dynamic.” (p 33). Further, I wonder why committee has not dwelled on the issue of inaccessibility faced by blind/deaf while viewing Television programmes. In the definition of information and communication,only telecom and web-based services have been included. (p 36).
Review of the Standing Committee Report on RPD Bill 2014
On the issue of legal capacity I think government and the committee understanding have improved a bit. For instance
When the Committee specifically enquired whether the deaf and dumb and the blind can be recognized as witnesses before the court of law, the Ministry in their written reply stated :
“Clause 11(4)(c) casts responsibility on the appropriate government to make available all necessary facilities and equipment to facilitate recording of testimonies, arguments or opinion given by PwDs in their preferred language and means of communication. It has now been agreed that the words sign language can be included under the definition of communication. Thus it would be incumbent upon the government to make provision for recording of testimonies of the hearing impaired persons in sign language i.e. the preferred mode of communication in terms of Clause 11. As regards blind and other PwDs, the clause takes care of this aspect. Indian Evidence Act and other relevant laws could be considered for similar amendment, if necessary. (pp 43-44).
However the issue of limited and plenary guardianship is yet to be resolved. Sadly, in the discussion of education, the entire focus has been on ‘inclusive education’. The specialised schools which cater to the needs of majority of disabled students have been left out. I wish the Standing Committee had discussed the surveys conducted by NCERT in several states which highlighted the huge dropouts of children with disabilities from ‘inclusive schools’. Interestingly, when the Committee asked the Ministry for substituting phrase ‘within the limits of its economic capacity’ See how smartly ministry took shelter under the garb of the Constitution.
3.86 When the Ministry was asked to state whether the words ‘the appropriate Government to the maximum of resources’ be substituted for ‘limit of its economic capacity’, the Ministry stated that, “Article 41 of the Constitution, which is relevant for empowerment of PwDs, uses the phrase “limit of its economic capacity and development”. To maintain the same spirit and alignment with the Constitution, the same phrase has been used in the Bill”.
However, story is complicated.The persons with disabilities are seeking constitutional amendment to obtain constitutional recognition under article 15,isn’t it?
And on the matter of accessibility of recreational programmes an culture, committee has rightly expressed its apprehensions.
The Committee, while taking note of the wordings of Clause 28(g), are still not convinced that this Clause befittingly addresses the decisive issues of promoting deaf culture, giving them access to more TV programmes with sign language, interpreters/subtitles etc. The Committee, therefore, desire that this Clause should appropriately also include issues of promotion of deaf culture, access to more TV programmes with sign language, interpreters/subtitles etc. (p 66).
And interestingly, where in the beginning Committee recommends for using ‘differently-abled or specially-abled as the title of the Act, however in chapter vi on persons with benchmark disabilities it suggests: the Committee desire the Ministry to (i) delete the word “special” from the title of Chapter VI, (ii) replace the phrase “if necessary” with ” of her/his choice”. However recommendations for age-relaxation for availing free education till 21 years instead of 18 could be welcome by certain groups.
Further, while reviewing chapter which deals with the duties and responsibilities of the state, Committee sends out strong recommendations
The Committee note that rights of persons with disabilities have been left out in the curriculum of schools for the reasons best known to the Ministry. The Committee feel that the rights of these people ought to be part of school curriculum too so that PwDs students are aware of their rights at an early stage of their life. The Committee, therefore, desire that in Clause 38(2)(f), the word “schools” be added before the word “universities”. (p 79).
Now comes the chapter on National Commission for Persons with Disabilities,and here again the demand for disabled chairperson is unresolved. When the Committee asked ministry to clarify its stand it responded
The existing clause does not debar the PwD to be the Chairperson. Keeping in view the function of Chairman, National Commission, it may be appropriate to leave it open for the most appropriate person to take up the job rather than restricting it to only PwDs. It is a negative notion that only the Persons with Disabilities can look after the welfare of PwDs. There are examples where persons other than PwDs have been doing exceptional work for the cause of PwDs. However, it may be noted that in order to safeguard the interest of PwDs one member of the National Commission will be a Person with Disability. (p 87).
Alright, if the same logic is applied to other commissions of SC/ST/OBCs, can these communities accept that there are many upper-caste people who have given exceptional contribution for emancipating the dalits,tribals and the religious minorities. Hence they could be made chairpersons?
Again, interesting preposition suggested by the Committee in the chapter dealing with special courts which contradicts the Committees previous understanding of disabled people as differently-abled and specially-abled
The Committee feel that title ‘Disability Rights Tribunal’ is more explicit, progressive and constructive vis a vis “Special Court’ which does not sound very positive. The Committee, therefore, desire the Ministry to consider renaming of a ‘Special Court’ as ‘Disability Rights Tribunal’ which appears more focused and sounds more precise. (p 89).
The chapter dealing with offences and penalties is not much improved. However,the consent of a disabled woman while terminating pregnancy which is the core demand of women groups is well-taken up by the committee. It has also recommended to the Ministry to insert separate chapter which would deal with women and girls with disabilities on the line of UNCRPD. Lets see what Modi-dispensation accept,dilute, or reject.. However,kudos to the Committee for submitting this report in relatively less time and after prolonged discussions. Lastly, I wish to note that out of all representatives who deposed before the Standing Committee,almost 75 per cent were Delhi based. Views from states such as Odisha,Bihar,UP, Maharashtra ,Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh,Jharkhand and the whole of north-east are absent.
Avinash Shahi is a Doctoral candidate in JNU