#SaveTheRPDA – Disability groups mobilise against proposal to dilute Disabilities Act
Across India, there is growing anger and outrage over the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s move to dilute key provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. Last week, the ministry sent a letter to just seven NGOs informing them of a proposed move to reduce penal provisions.
Pre-fabricated. Pro-corporate. Exclusionary. Words from the letter sent by Doctors with Disabilities to the Department of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE). The pan-India cross disability body of health professionals is the latest to strongly oppose the MSJE’s move to dilute penal provisions under Sections 89, 92 and 93 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016.
The letter questions why the MSJE and DEPwD has proposed such a move even though the Act does not fall in the list of 37 laws that the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) had proposed amendments to in February this year. “So why is MSJE so keen to amend a three year recently passed law?”, asks the letter.
Proposed RPWD amendments – Key objections
The letter also goes on to cite the many grounds for why the move is a mockery of the Centre’s Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas slogan.
- The circular was sent to seven select disability organisations (all Delhi-based) for their feedback and latershared on the departmental website for general feedback. That, unlike the Ministry of Finance, DEPwD chose to suggest the proposed amendment on its own defying the autonomy of disabled people in decision-making.
- Deadline given for suggestions is 10 days in contrast to the 15 days given by the Finance Ministry.
- The DEPwD did not involve all the stakeholders or empower them to provide suggestions on their own.
- One of the justifications cited which is to unclog court processes has no ground given that since the implementation of the Act in April 2017, the Court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) remain without a permanent incumbent. The capital of India does not have a State Commissioner for Disabilities, and many states are yet to frame rules to implement the RPwD. States which have framed ruled lack special courts in districts to implement the Act.
Under this backdrop, what is the need to dilute a social welfare legislation on the pretext of vikas with an amendment when it’s not even properly implemented? A day after the new law was implemented, I was the first one to file an official complaint with the Uttar Pradesh government against one of its cabinet ministers. After a long wait and no acknowledgment, I had to file an RTI to get the response from the Court of UP State Disability Commissioner wherein they said that the verbal abuse happened towards a person who did not have a disability of 40% and above, hence the law is not applicable to him as he is technically not a disabled person. – Dr Satendra Singh, Co-founder, Doctors with Disabilities
In his letter Dr Singh goes on to cite various other complaints made against senior ministers and officials for threats and offensive statements towards people with disabilities that were ignored. In the most recent incident where a disabled woman in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh, was abused by a serving state government official, there was stone cold silence from key authorities.
“Neither the CCPD nor the State Commissioner took note of it but the National Commission of Women took it suo moto. The amendment provides more ‘compounding’ powers to commissioners but as we saw in this recent case, CCPD who happens to be Secretary of DEPwD, as well as a woman herself, chose not to act. The indifference by CCPD is not for the first time”, says Dr Singh.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) too has extended support to the opposition to the proposed amendments. In a strongly worded statement it said all attempts to weaken penal provisions that hold entities accountable for violation of RPWD Act must be resisted.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (M) became he first political party to bring out a statement against the proposed amendment of the RPWD Act. “The proposed amendments are, as the government itself admits, in tandem with the Modi government’s efforts to further open up the economy to unbridled loot by foreign and domestic capital, utilising the pandemic situation. The attempts to negate these gains are in conjecture with the attacks on democratic rights, curbing dissent, amending labour laws etc”.
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