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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

2001 Observance of the
International Day of Disabled Persons

International Day of Disabled Persons 3 December 2001

United Nations expert group meeting on disability-sensitive policy and programme monitoring and evaluation
UNHQ, New York, 3-5 December 2001

Country Paper: India*

By B.L. Sharma, IAS (Retd.)
Former Chief Commissioner Disability - India

Indian Scenario

The Persons with Disabilities in India form largest disadvantaged group like in most countries of the world. As a group they are starved of the usual services and facilities available to the general public as they have been subjected to long history of neglect, isolation, poverty, deprivation and at times pity as well. They yet do not have an effective economic, political or media power in India. The issue of disability in India touches lives of about 50 million persons, which is 5% of population. Out of this around 75% stay in Rural area. This number would be more than the population of couple of small countries of the world. These persons frequently live in poor conditions, owing to inadequate facilities of health, hygiene, poor means of transport and communication thus, they find it difficult to get their due share.

The issue of disability directly pertains to the Human Rights. The whole process of Human Rights is a result of devolution of individual. It has been a result of long struggle. Procedural equality is legal. Doctrine of equality, affirmative action is there to ensure that unequal are given facilities to come up like others, to be equal. It is inspired by the principal of greatest happiness of the greatest numbers, Prof. Laski once said "An unequal society lives in a constant fear of disaster. It would be unstable."

The ideas and concepts of equality and full participation for persons with disabilities have developed very well on paper throughout the world, buy not so well on the ground so far. The feeling of commitment is not evident. One contributing factor might be insensitive media portrayal of disability which adversely affects policy and confidence of disabled. Thus; the first and foremost is to break the mental barrier. The mind set of executors and psychological barriers in the minds of disabled persons have to be demolished. The persons with disabilities must break vicious cycle of society's negative value judgements about them. Unless persons with disabilities change their own attitudes about themselves, they will not be able to convince others to do so.

In an era, where priority ranking that an issue or a group receives in policy and funding decisions is directly proportional to intensity, quality and quantity of media coverage. The everyday struggles of persons with disabilities are not subject of media sensationalism. On the other hand; adverse publicity robs them of the confidence needed to deal with vicissitudes of life.

The disabled expect an active participation in all activities of their living. It has to be realized by all concerned that persons with disability deserve same range of choices and lifestyles like any other citizen. They only wish to be treated like any other citizen, which they actually are if seen without prejudices. As a matter of fact the treatment given to a disabled person define the inherent characteristics of a society and highlight the cultural values that sustain it. It reflects the character of human being.

The Persons with Disabilities Act in India

The Parliament of India passed the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. Passing of this Act has been a landmark step to make people with disabilities an integral part of the Indian main stream. The Act guarantees full equality, independence and accessibility to all people with disabilities to the services and facilities needed in day today living. Therefore, persons with disability in India see this as dawn of a new era in their lives. The Act enlists the rights and facilities that a person with disabilities would be entitled to and the responsibilities and obligations which are placed on the Govt. of India, State Govt., local bodies, NGOs and citizens at large. It focuses on issues, which are fundamental to the care of the disabled. It is a hope to lead a dignified life. The Act is an embodiment of good intentions of a welfare state.

The act provides for 3% reservation in Govt. education institutions, in Govt. jobs, protection against discrimination, harassment, opportunity for self employment, accessibility to all facilities to lead a dignified life like any other citizen and redressal of grievances.

The result of these intentions would be measured by the benefits that would actually accrue at the grassroots level. Therefore, implementation of each and every provisions of the Act in letter and spirit by the Government and all concerned is the key in achieving the goal. However, our experience and observation indicates that there is only modest real progress in areas most crucial to their immediate well being --rehabilitation, service delivery, education and training, employment, access to the general services in society, and other tools they need for equalization.

The Govt. has on 30 Nov. 2001 made education a Fundamental Right for the Children up 14 years age. It will really help all disable children to get education.

The Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities

The Act provides for a Chief Commissioner at the Government of India level and a Commissioner in each State. The Chief Commissioner is responsible for giving policy recommendations to the Govt., monitoring, evaluation and working of safeguards provided under the Act. In addition there are a large number of Govt. executive orders concerning day to day working and quality of life of this segment of society.

To provide adequate and speedy redressal to the grievances of disabled persons the CCD has been made a Quasi Judicial authority having powers of a judicial court. Defaulting Governments, Organizations, Official thus; can be issued court summons, records can be called for to issue suitable directions. He has to also supervise working of Disability Commissioners in States. He can initiate-Suo moto proceedings. The Chief Commissioner is to annually submit a report to the Parliament of India, with his recommendations.

Advocacy of the Act

To assess the implementation of the Act and to spread the message of the Act the Chief Commissioner visited various states and became proactive in advocating cause of disability. During the state visits, following three activities were undertaken:

  1. A workshop on advocacy and implementation of the Act was organized, of 100-150 participants, where concerned officers, organizations, NGOs, experts, person with disabilities participated.
  2. Meeting with Secretaries of different departments and senior officers concerned with the implementation of the Act was done. A meeting with the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary was scheduled to apprise them with the progress and problems.
  3. Visit to NGOs, organizations/ institutions working in the field of disability was undertaken.

Strategy adopted

In order to ensure implementation of wide ranging provisions of the Act in whole of India, creation of administrative, monitoring & enforcing institutions was given high priority. Through persistent & vigorous efforts of CCD, co-ordination committees were formed in 24 states. Appointment of 8 full-time & 23 CD s on additional charge basis has been done. Similarly, State Executive Committees have been provided in 24 states. The focus in first two years was on creation of these mechanisms, in subsequent years effort has been on activating these.

In pursuance of its obligations, a number of initiatives have been taken by Govt. at various levels. However, despite the statutory provisions, schemes, administrative orders etc. the benefits meant for PWDs do not reach them. In order to address this critical problem CCD devoted its attention on creating awareness about the Act and facilities made there under. 50 workshops, 21 States/U.Ts & in about 26 districts were organised. In these workshops Govt. functionaries, local NGOs persons with disabilities were represented.

For better enforcement of the Act, several apex level organizations were approached. These organizations have been encouraged to included relevant Chapter of the Act in the training for professionals and field functionaries. As a result of this, (a) Council of Architects included the barrier-free model building byelaws in the foundation course for architects and town planners. 20 refresher courses were organized for practising architects, builders, and civil engineers across the country. (b) Pharmacy Council of India provided reservation to disabled students and organized sensitization workshops. (c) All India Council of Technical Education has taken measures for starting non-formal and formal courses for PWD. (d) Medical Council of India has also been approached for inclusion of relevant Chapter of the Disabilities Act, particularly the Chapter on Definition and Prevention, in the training of medicos (e) National Legal Authority has been approached for conducting workshop to generated awareness among the disabled about the provision of free legal aid. (f) UGC has been approached for taking a number of steps to sensitize academic institutions about their responsibilities under the Act.

Short training modules have been introduced in National Academy of administration for sensitizing all Administrators. Institute of Secretarial Training & Management have also included a module for training other officials. NHRC has been approached to initiate a training programme on Human Rights of disabled for lawyers, law academician, Human Rights and Disability Rights activists. The teachers training programme would include a component on education of children with disabilities form the next academic session. Exposure to such training would sensitize various govt. functionaries and service providers to the needs of PWDs and their own responsibilities towards them. In the absence of any such exposure, the tendency prevails to ignore statutory provisions and govt. directives. In order to ensure proper implementation of the Act in the field the Government, at the initiative of the CCD, has constituted a District Execution Committee under the collector. The Government of India under took New Delhi Pilot Project, with the assistance of the ESCAPE to make 14 buildings in one Sq. K.M. area barrier free. It was completed in 1998 and created a good impact.

Grievances Redressal And Suo-moto Action

Complaint redressal mechanism has not only been successful in terms of providing relief to the aggrieved disabled persons but it has also created awareness about the rights of the disabled at various levels, of Government. It would be pertinent to mention that earlier only 2-3 employment advertisements per annum catering to reservation for PWDs were issued. However, ever since the Chief Commission started taking Suo moto action against defaulting establishments who initiated recruitment process without reserving 3% vacancies for PWDs, the situation dramatically improved. It is now common to see 2-3 advertisements per week with-such reservation.

Another benchmark of quasi-judicial function of CCD has been in the area of education. Earlier only few universities and some technical educational institutions made provisions for disable students. Today the scenario has undergone a noticeable change. In the last three years over 300 educational institutions have given 3% seats to disabled. This arrangement has created 26,000 seats in Central Schools and Navodaya Sangathan. In addition, IIT, Polytechnics, School of Architecture, School of Hotel Management, Tourism, Pharmacy and Medical Colleges have also incorporated 3% reservation in admission.

Due to slow action in filling up of 3% quota of vacancies in Government establishments, backlog of vacancies cumulated in large volume. The office of CCD initiated suo-moto action resulting in launching of special recruitment drives by Ministry of Railways, Banking Division, Ministry of Defence and large PSUs like NTPC, BHEL, Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum etc. It is estimated that over 5000 jobs were created in various sectors as an outcome of suo-moto action. Most importantly as a consequence of complaints before the Chief Commissioner such administrative rules and laws got amended which were in derogation of the provisions of the Act.

Quasi Judicial Work

The office of CCD, soon after its creation in Oct. 1998, took up matters pertaining to deprivation of rights, violation of the Act, laws and orders passed for the PWDs from time to time. In the first 6 months, only 65 complaints were received. As awareness increased among PWDs about their rights and about the existing of office of CCD, the number rose to 529 in the year, 1999. This further increased to 800 in year 2000. During the year 2001 out of total 1118 complaints received 803, 72%were decided.

  • Analysis of the complaint received would reveal that subject wise these were as follows :-
  • On Employment issues 55%, Education 11%, Concession/Entitlement 9%, Harassment 8%, Property 4%. Barrier Free Environment 2% and Misc. 12%.

The category of organisations, institutions against whom complaints were lodged were:- Government undertakings and Corporation 20%, Educational Institution 14%, Ministry of Government of India 14%, State Government and their Organization 13%, Private Sector and Individual 9% and Misc. 31%.

Monitoring Strategies

In pursuance of monitoring responsibility following monitoring tools were developed by the Chief Commissioner to obtain information:-

  1. Incorporation of the relevant portions of the Act in the Ministries Performance Appraisal
  2. Schemes and policies framed - Implementation thereof
  3. Allocation of budget towards the disability sector
  4. Number and nature of beneficiaries

Tools have been circulated to Departments for quarterly reporting. Based on the information received in Chief Commissioner's Office the performance is evaluated, programmes are reviewed and a detailed analysis is done to assertain impact. Based on this appraisal the Chief Commissioner formulates his recommendations in the annual report to the Parliament of India.

Present Status

  • Though the Act is in operation from Feb. 1996 but the message of the Act has not percolated at the grass-root level. All advocacy efforts like seminars, workshops and meetings have been largely confined to metropolitan cities, State Capitals or major towns.
  • The concern for the disability sector and commitment to implement the Act, in letter and spirit, in majority of implementing authorities is not visible.
  • There is considerable increase in budget allocation in the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and by certain State Govt.. During the period 1996-97 the allocation was only Rs. 650 Million which was increased to Rs 2300 Million in 2000 and in 2001 it is Rs 5500 Million. The percentage share of disabilities budget has also increased from 4.8% to 8 % This is appreciable.
  • No action plan has been made and no time frame provided for implementing various provisions of this Act by majority of Ministries and States.
  • The Meetings of Coordination and Executive Committees are not held regularly. Members do not show desired knowledge and sincerity toward the cause. In a few States Committees have not been formed. In certain committees NGOs and disable persons are not included despite provision.
  • Three States have provided more than 3% reservation in Government jobs namely, M.P.(6%), Karnataka (5%), Gujarat (4%). In Meghalaya and Nagaland no such reservation has yet been provided.
  • Government of India has made 3% reservation in all group, A, B, C & D posts while only in Maharashtra & Mizoram reservation for all the 4 groups have been provided. States of M.P. and Orissa have such reservation for group B, C & D posts while all other States have made 3% reservation for C&D group posts only.
  • The Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India has reserved 3% funds in poverty alleviation programmes for persons with disabilities. This is a welcomed step. In 11 States benefit of this provision has been taken.
  • The States of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have undertaken a survey to ascertain the number of persons with disabilities and their requirements. This has enabled them to know the quantum of problem and the relief and resources required to meet.
  • The Act clearly stipulates for providing a barrier free access to such persons in all public places but it is not so. This is one single factor, which inhabits such persons from getting their due and living a quality life.

Disability in the New Millenium

The number of disabled people is likely to increase significantly both as a global figure and as a percentage of their national population. Many disabled people in both developed and developing countries will be elderly, often without traditional family support system. Prevention programmes may be off set by the effects of urbanization, pollution, environmental degradation and increased accidents and conflict. In number of countries where populations are exploding, like India, amid poverty - may have a significantly higher incidence of persons with disability. As a result of improved health care and nutrition the life expectancy will increase, thus; having people living longer with incapacities due to age.

Such projections in scenario raise major ethical, social and economic questions of concern for the persons with disabilities and Governments. It is the economic dimensions of the solution that concerns the Government. How much, they want to know, is equalization of opportunities going to cost the exchequer in the 21st century.

By the year 2025, with increasing life expectancy, the prevalence for mild and severe disability may well push up to around 7.5%. This affects the fundamental rights of a massive group of people who transcend very barrier of nationality, gender and age. Therefore, the Governments will have to spend resources for more detailed census, welfare, monitoring and evaluation.

Future Scenario

It is pertinent to outline here future course of action for disabilities in India.

  • The PWD Act has broadly adopted a multi-sectoral approach, which is not effective as except the nodal Departments, no body owns the programme. The implementation needs clear focus, goals and sense of accountability.
  • A ten year perspective plan, demarcating responsibilities and milestones is needed. A goal of covering at least 25% of disabilities population in a given time must be set.
  • The NGO set up has largely confined itself upto larger urban areas. Thus, rural areas have no access to most of the facilities through Govt. or NGO channels. The Govt. may consider providing, to NGOs, as an incentive, higher level of grant in aid for services and for manpower engagement in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • Sensitization workshops must be organized for Government functionaries, professionals like lawyers, doctors, architects, construction engineers, police personnel, para-medical staff, grass-root level functionaries, who could help such people in daily life. The disability certificate should be uniform and be acceptable to all Govt. organizations for all services.
  • All facilities/concessions provided to such persons be published at one place for information and easy accessibility. It would need periodic upgradation also.
  • Education is the first step for empowerment. At present about only 4% of disabled children have access to education facilities in India. Instead of providing for a separate education setup it is socially desirable, economically viable and educationally appropriate to provide for education of disable children at every level of normal education system.
  • The 3% reservation in educational institutions must be taken up vigorously as this would empower them with necessary knowledge, skills and qualification to lead a productive life. All Training institutes in the country must have disability component in their curriculum
  • As the employment in the Govt. sector and in the PSUs, cannot meet the needs and aspiration of the eligible & employable disabled persons schemes for their self employment be formulated and linked with credit. Important component of such a scheme would include training, skill upgradation, providing equipment support, technical, design, marketing assistance and financial support.
  • It would be appropriate to have a National Resource Centre for disabilities at the Central level for collecting, collating and dissemination of information on every aspect of disability. This Centre should be on the Net. The TV and Radio Channels must be proactive and give programmes on regular basis highlighting disability related issues, success stories.

Mr B.L.Sharma, IAS (Retd.) Chairman, Lok Jumbish Parishad, Jaipur-302004 Raj. (India)
Tel.:00 91-141-515850 F/ No: 00 91-141-510445 E-mail: blsharmaias@yahoo.com


* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Secretariat. This document has not been formally edited.

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development