Feature

Volume 5 Issue 5 - March 01, 2007

Disability: from budget blues to budget boons

The Railway and Financial budgets should have been regarded by the Government as key policy tools that would set the tone for the rest of the country, says our Correspondent in a critical review, and wonders if the current budget would promise a new beginning with regard to the allocation for expenditure towards disability .

With the passage more than a decade ago of the first-ever comprehensive legislation in post-independence India with respect to the country’s  disabled citizens, namely the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, it is surely reasonable to expect a steady shift, if not a sudden clean break, in the  official stance towards the more than 60 million disabled people, which has in recent history remained one of benign neglect and at times benevolent intervention. But if you look back over the post-legislative phase of disability in India, it should be obvious that the denial of basic education, accessibility, employment and non-discrimination to the vast majority of disabled people can no longer be condoned as benign neglect, but constitute a patent violation of the provisions of the Disability Act.

The number of disability-related petitions on public interest litigation, one may hazard a guess even without statistical evidence, would easily surpass the Government’s score-card on concrete policies that are visible, working and effective. Be it Central Schools that have to have disabled children on their rolls to translate the dream of inclusive education, the offices of the Union Government equipped with  access-related architectural modifications, the Rajdhani and Janshatabdi trains with disabled-user-friendly entrance/exit points and toilets, the story has been a cruel and complete let down of this segment of the population. Admittedly, these would have at the most amounted to a drop in the ocean. But every single drop would have sent out a strong and loud symbolic signal to every official worth his salt (leave alone his conscience) in the entire country. 

Similarly, the allocation for expenditure towards disability in the annual budget has yet to see an appreciable increase commensurate with the commitments espoused in the 1995 Act. Indeed, the Railway and Financial budgets should have been regarded by the Government as key policy tools that would set the tone for the rest of the country. Will the current budget promise a new beginning? If it indeed does, that will be the boon that many in the disability sector have long awaited as a legitimate entitlement and one that would be underpinned by a strong economic rationale.

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