Get-hooked July 3, 2020
MSJE moves to alter key provisions of RPWD Act relating to offences, activists cry foul
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, proposes to alter certain key provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 relating to offences. The move is being slammed as an attempt to dilute the Act.
In a letter sent to seven NGOs the Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) has suggested that penal provisions laid down under Sections 89, 92 and 93 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016 be amended.
Disability rights groups have opposed the move as ‘anti-disability’ and ‘pro-corporate’. It also comes just days after a senior Andhra Pradesh government official was caught on camera assaulting a disabled employee.
What the RPWD Act currently says
- Section 89 – Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or of any rule made thereunder shall for first contravention be punishable with fine which may extend to 10,000 rupees and for any subsequent contravention with fine which shall not be less than 50,000 rupees but which may extend to five lakh rupees.
- Section 92 – Punishment for offences of atrocities…shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months, but which may extend to five years and with fine.
- Section 93 – Punishment for failure to furnish information… punishable with fine which may extend to 25,000 rupees in respect of each offence, and in case of continued failure or refusal, with further fine which may extend to 1,000 rupees for each day, of continued failure or refusal after the date of original order imposing punishment of fine.
The MSJE has proposed this in its letter that a new Section 95 A be inserted under which “any offence under Section 89, 92(a) and 93, may, either before or after the institution of proceedings, be compounded by the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities or the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, as the case may be, with the consent of the aggrieved person with disability, by such amount and in such manner as the Central Government may, by notification, specify in this behalf. Where an offence has been compounded under sub- sections (1), the offender if in custody, shall be discharged and any proceeding in respect of such offence, shall be dropped”.
The MSJE has sought feedback on these changes by 10 June, that’s a week from today. Reacting on Facebook, disability rights advocate Vaishnavi Jayakumar slammed the ‘sheer effrontery in sneakily attempting an amendment to the RPWD Act during a pandemic when its only contribution has been guidelines that remain on paper’.
Where’s the data that supports this dilution of penalties? How many states in India actually have an independent Disability Commissionerate functioning as it’s meant to instead of a substitute hotch potch factotum for all things disability? Is this the way one does public participatory policy making with invitations for comments limited to 7 Chosen Delhi Ones, (not even State Disability Commissioners have been informed!), inaccessible letters, elitist communication that excludes 99% of disabled Indians, super short deadlines and a negation of the community’s guiding principle of Nothing About Us Without Us? – Vaishnavi Jayakumar, Disability rights advocate
Move seen as pro-corporate
The letter, admitted a Delhi-based disability rights advocate, has come as a shock. The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), which is among the seven organisations to get the letter, has taken a stand against the amendment and has sought feedback from NGOs working in the disability rights space before framing a formal response.
Meanwhile, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has written a letter objecting to the proposed changed as well as the way the MSJE has gone about conducting this exercise. The NPRD is not among the seven organisations to get the letter.
“What constitutes the basis for certain organisations being selected and invited to be part of the exercise and the reasons for leaving out the others, is shrouded in mystery. If the pick and choose policy was based on the contributions organisations made to the framing of the RPD Bill and subsequently to the framing of the rules governing the RPD Act, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD), does qualify”, said Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
Exclusion of many disabilities
As the NPRD letter also points out the Act recognises 21 disabilities while the letter has been sent only to Action for Autism, NCPEDP, National Federation of Blind, National Association of Blind, National Association of Deaf, Amar Jyoti and Indian Joint Organisation of Blind.
“Why is the department avoiding engaging with organisations representing other disabling conditions recognised by the RPD Act as also others who have been engaging with the department and have been advocating concerns of the disabled community?”, asks the NPRD.
Disability rights advocate Dr Satendra Singh has also questioned the timing of this exercise. On Twitter, he said. It’s just three years of implementation of the Act and rather than acting on the Concluding Observations of the UNCRPD Committee the department is bringing out Penal Provisions Amendment in a pandemic with 10-day deadline. Diluting the Act?”
It’s a question that many are asking. Over three years after the Act precious little has been done to ensure that it has been implemented in the full spirit. There have been few prosecutions under the Act and many states are yet to even notify it. Instead of working towards addressing these gaps, the focus is now on facilitating ease of business.
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