Volume 7 Issue 9 - May 01, 2010
Moment of reckoning - New Law versus Amendments
Sanjay Mitra and Javed Abidi at the National Consultation
It started some eight odd months back when the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, yet again, decided to amend the Disability Act of 1995. Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) convened a Core Group of Delhi based disability activists to study them. While doing so, this group of 6 to 8 people realised that the amendments were piecemeal and had not considered several Articles of U.N.C.R.P.D. It was felt that a new law based on U.N.C.R.P.D. was the need of the day. While the Ministry keeps on being cagey about the issue, D.R.G. and N.C.P.E.D.P. have gone ahead with a National Consultation and four Zonal Consultations on the issue. Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. takes a look.
Eight precious months have gone by since that meeting of a few Delhi based members of Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) in early August. The Core Group was convened to study the amendments to the Disability Act of 1995, as proposed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (M.S.J.E.). The amendments had not even been made public until then! National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) acquired a photocopy of the amendments from a source. Repeated phone calls to the Ministry for a soft copy went unheeded. We wondered what the secrecy was all about!
When D.R.G.’s Core Group met on that summer day, it had no inkling that this whole exercise would take a few months. The law was 14 years old. The saga of amendments had by then become an urban legend in the sector, started in the N.D.A. regime by Maneka Gandhi and taken through U.P.A.- I, by Meira Kumar and now by Mukul Wasnik in U.P.A. - II. In the meantime, India had already ratified U.N.C.R.P.D. in 2007.
While studying the amendments keeping U.N.C.R.P.D. in mind, the Group realised that the hundred plus amendments were insufficient and piecemeal and that it would need another hundred or more amendments to cover all the articles of U.N.C.R.P.D. At that juncture, it was felt that only a new law would be able to truly reflect the letter and spirit of the Convention and drive the paradigm shift as envisaged in U.N.C.R.P.D. The Group was so excited at this prospect that D.R.G. went on to even give a name to the new law! ‘The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Respect for Dignity, Effective Participation and Inclusive Opportunities) Act, 2010’!
D.R.G. then made a table comparing M.S.J.E.’s proposed amendments and the articles of U.N.C.R.P.D. Nearly, 14 were not mentioned or referred to. A delegation of D.R.G. met Mukul Wasnik on August 29 with a representation. He was very open and even agreed that hundreds of amendments would actually mean a new law. He sought time till October so that the Ministry’s consultations got over. That was then.
In October 2009, N.C.P.E.D.P. organised a two day ‘National Consultation on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Respect for Dignity, Effective Participation and Inclusive Opportunities) Act, 2010’ in New Delhi which was attended by around 80 top notch leaders from across the country and from across disabilities. The majority felt it was time to go in for a new law. A decision was also made to take this deliberation to the Zonal level.
This Consultation was attended by officials of the Prime Minister’s Office; C.P.I. (M.) leader, Muralidharan; B.J.P. leader, Najma Heptullah, among others. In fact, Wasnik himself directed M.S.J.E. Joint Secretary, Dr. Arbind Prasad to attend the Consultation.
Soon, World Disability Day was upon us. Hopes rose thinking the Minister would make some announcement and sank without a trace. Then rumours began to do the rounds that the amendments would be tabled in the Parliament in the Budget session. D.R.G. again met the Minister in February. He was still cagey, still not sure. But he refuted the rumours of any Amendments Bill being introduced in the Budget session.
In the meantime, N.C.P.E.D.P. and D.R.G. not only kept drafting the Chapters, but also went ahead with the Zonal Consultations as planned. The North Zone Consultation was held on January 29 and 30 in New Delhi, the East Zone Consultation in Guwahati on February 19, the South Zone Consultation in Chennai on April 16 and 17 and finally, the West Zone Consultation in Mumbai on April 24 and 25. The near unanimous mandate at all the four Zonal Consultations was the same – a new law is what the disability sector needs.
M.S.J.E. on the other hand, continues to dither. Although, time and again the Minister makes some noise about the possibility of ‘a new law’, but when asked directly, he refuses to give any categoric answer. The grapevine is again rife with strong rumours about the Ministry constituting an ‘Expert Committee’ to study this whole issue. Phone calls have been made to fringe elements with no credibility whatsoever on ‘who would be good for drafting a new law’! Not only phone calls, the Joint Secretary in his outstation visits would ask disability sector people the same question! This process of selecting ‘experts’ has raised numerous eye brows.
Thus far, eight precious months have been lost! If a handful of people (D.R.G. Core Group), without any resources, could draft as many as nearly 20 chapters and if a modest disability organization (N.C.P.E.D.P.) could go ahead and have a National Consultation first and four Zonal Consultations after that on the issue in these eight months, why couldn’t the Government even make up its mind.
How much time would the Ministry with all the resources at its disposal take to form a committee of the best disability experts in the country and draft a new law? Three months? Six months?? One year???
The whole of Indian disability sector is now getting immensely impatient. When the Disability Act was passed in 1995, the disability movement in India was very nascent. But 15 years down the line, it has grown from strength to strength. The disabled people of India now know exactly what they want.
The government may try to play the ‘divide and rule’ policy, but the perils of democracy has given power to the majority voice. And the majority voice says it wants a new law. The majority voice says its time for professionals to take a walk and let disabled people themselves decide their future. The majority voice says that it is ready to get out on the streets and fight for their rights if need be. The majority voice says that Mr. Minister cannot avoid the moment of reckoning that is imminent.
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