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Delhi government failure to implement key RPWD Act provision sign of larger apathy

One of the key provisions in the Rights for Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act is the Equal Opportunity Policy, which mandates that workplaces are accessible in every way. As it turns out, over two years after the Act came into being, even government offices in India are failing to follow this.

Over two years after the RPwD Act 2016 came into effect, its yet to be implemented in many states. Delhi, being the national capital would be the exception, one would think. This is far from the reality as it turns out.

Over 70 departments under the Delhi government have been found wanting when it comes to following the Equal Opportunity Policy (EOP). The policy, one of the key provisions under the RPWD Act 2016, mandates that all workplaces are accessible in every way for people with disabilities.

Now a show cause notice has been issued to these departments by T D Dhariyal, State Commissioner (Delhi) for Persons with Disabilities, for not registering and notifying the EOP.

The EOP applies to private establishments as well and the notice asks government departments to provide a list of private establishments registered with them so they can be sent notices too.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, only 1,255 state government establishments and 11 private establishments in Delhi have registered and notified EOPs since the Act came into force. This is about half the number it is supposed to be for government establishments.

This apathy on the part of a government at the national capital is deeply disappointing, says disability rights advocate Nipun Malhotra.

It is extremely shocking on many front. As it is, despite being the national capital, Delhi, took so long to notify the rules under RPWD Act, whereas it should have set an example to the rest of the country. I am glad the Disabilities Commissioner has taken note and I hope this leads to government establishments taking the lead. - Nipun Malhotra, CEO, Nipman Foundation

The attitude is especially disappointing when you consider the party that is in power here - the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). In 2015, AAP was hailed for mentioning disability in its manifesto. Four years later, in 2019, the picture was very different with the AAP making no mention of disability.

An omission that is not surprising say disability rights groups given the AAP's dithering stand on many other issues related to the RPWD Act.

"Even with regard to other issues that we have been consistently raising with the government, except for a few - pensions and bus passes - it has failed to deliver on any of the other issues, said Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD). This, he says, indicates a larger lack of commitment.

"In the last Delhi assembly elections, among the three main contenders - the Congress which was in office at that time, the BJP and the AAP, it was only the AAP that had made certain promises in its manifesto. That it is failing to fulfil those promises reveals its total lack of commitment to the issue. It's a different matter that in its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, disability did not find a place at all.

It would be unfair to turn the spotlight on Delhi alone. Many other states are dragging their heels when it comes to implementing provisions of the RPWD Act. "Many states are yet to frame rules, though more than two years have lapsed, whereas the Act mandates that it should be framed within six months of the Act coming into force, says Vishwanath.

Even now, the credit for this move goes to the Disabilities Commissioner for taking this initiative as Malhotra points out. "Delhi seems to be failing on every front when it comes to disability. Just 22 people in the state have the unique disability identity cards (UDID). That speaks volumes.

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