Bihar Elections 2020 – Report outlines ways to ensure more participation by disabled voters
Elections in Bihar will begin later this month. This is the first election in the state since the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. A team of researchers associated with the Office of the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has released a paper outlining policy efforts that will increase participated by disabled voters.
All eyes are on the Bihar Assembly Elections which begin later this month. This is the first election to be held during the coronavirus pandemic.
Another important first is that this is the first Assembly election in Bihar since the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016.
Many facilities have been put in place by the Office of the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities to ensure greater participated by disabled voters like:
- Pick-up and drop transport facilities from homes to booths, along with priority voting.
- Ballot paper in Braille for visually impaired voters.
- Sign language interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing voters.
- Setting up over 7,000 ‘Divyang Jan Committees’.
All game changing factors in a state where over 50% of working disabled people do not use public transport and nearly 70% do not access government buildings.
First state election after RPWD Act 2020
These figures are from a detailed survey conducted by team of researchers from the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, whose focus area is on disability issues in India. The team is working in collaboration with the State Disability Commissioner’s office to ensure that disabled voters come out in large numbers.
The report presents the socioeconomic conditions of PwDs in Bihar, and the successes and challenges of government policies. The team has worked hard to analyse large-scale secondary data to shine a light on employment, education, poverty and accessibility. These analyses present a systematic framework to bring to attention the immediate issues facing disabled citizens and serve as a feedback mechanism for the government. – Dr Shivajee Kumar, State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Bihar
Apart from looking closely into education, accessibility, employment and other barriers, the report has also come out with policy efforts that would enable greater voter participation.
Among the key barriers mentioned is access to disability certificates. Only about one-third of the state’s disabled population has a disability certificate.
Report highlights barriers faced by disabled
“The most likely reason for non-possession of the certificate would be because their percentage of disability was lesser than 40%”, says the report. One indication of actual non-coverage, it says, is the data regarding possession of certificates among those with multiple disabilities, who are very likely to be over 40% disabled. “In Bihar, 66% of those with multiple disabilities did not have a certificate; almost identical to figures for the rest of India”, it goes on say.
Lack of awareness is a major challenge with personal networks being the primary source of information regarding the disability certificate. Disabled people from less educated families are largely unaware of government welfare schemes. The process of acquiring a certificate is also a problem as it requires a disabled person to travel to the Primary Health Centre (PHC). These PHCs are located far outside the villages and people must visit over five times before they get their hands on the certificate.
- Raise disability pension immediately to a minimum of ₹1000 per person a month.
- Encourage disabled voters to vote through a targeted campaign.
- Coverage of disability certificates and pensions should be increased, to reach a higher number of eligible applicants.
- Minimise inconvenience of physically traveling to get disability certificates. Instead provide door-to-door verification and sign-up for these schemes.
- Enrol people with disabilities in higher education and skill development programmes.
- Make public infrastructure more accessible keeping with the spirit of the RPWD 2016 Act. Attempts towards inclusion taken by private establishments and employers should be monitored.
- Transparent internal grievance redressal cells for people with disabilities in private establishments so they can voice their concerns.
Important steps that must be taken up in earnest given the overwhelming enthusiasm of disabled voters to participate in the elections. 48% of people surveyed said they had voted in the last General Elections in 2019. In comparison, a larger percentage of adults – 69% – wish to vote in the upcoming Assembly election.
You can access the full report here.
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