Interview

Volume 4 Issue 14 - July 15, 2006

“For us, the C.C.C. is as good as non-existent”: Vandana Bedi

Vandana Bedi is a well known name in the Indian disability sector. She was Executive Director of Spastics Society of Northern India (now called A.A.D.I.) for many years, before she quit that to become an independent Consultant and Trainer in the area of Disability & Development. For some time now she has been a member of the Central Executive Committee (C.E.C.) - the supposedly highest body to execute decisions taken by the Central Coordination Committee (C.C.C.) as per the Disability Act. She shares her views regarding the role and effectiveness of the C.E.C., in an interview to Chitra S. Shankar.

1. Who are the members of the C.E.C.?

The Secretary of the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) is the Chairperson. Other members include the Joint Secretary, M.S.J.E., Director, M.S.J.E., Joint Secretaries from various other ministries such as Labour, Rural Development, Finance, Human Resource Development (H.R.D.), etc., and the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.

Apart from these, there are five representatives from N.G.O.s. I am one of them. The Chairpersons of the National Trust and Rehabilitation Council of India (R.C.I.) are also invited members of this Committee.

2. The Disability Act mandates that the C.E.C should have maximum representation from people with disabilities. How many members in the present Committee are disabled people?

The Chairperson of R.C.I. is the only disabled person. I have raised this issue again and again in every meeting. Bhushan Punani is from the vision impaired side, one lady represents the hearing impaired, and there’s one gentleman from Udaipur who represents the physically disabled population.

As far as I know, there are only four people, whereas the Disability Act stipulates that there should be five people from the N.G.O. sector. The fifth person is missing. Certain sectors such as Mental Health are not represented.

3. Could you tell us what exactly is the role of the C.E.C.?

As per the Disability Act, the role of the C.E.C. is to implement the decisions taken by the C.C.C. It has to work out ways to implement those decisions. But in actual fact, we are not at all clear about our role. We had raised this question a number of times, which has also been minuted. We had stressed that there was a need to clearly define the role of the C.E.C. members.

According to the Disability Act, we are supposed to see the C.C.C. minutes to understand what has been discussed in their meetings, so we can take that into consideration when we take our decisions.

4. Have any of the C.C.C. decisions been carried out by you till date? If yes, what are they?

The problem is we do not even know what they are doing, or what their decisions are. We have never been told as to when the C.C.C. meetings are held or what decisions are taken. So for us, the C.C.C. is as good as non-existent.

5. In your interview to D.N.I.S. in 2003, you had said that in the twelfth meeting of the C.E.C., the then Chairman B. S. Baswan had decided that the next meeting would begin by reading the Minutes of the C.C.C. Has this decision been implemented?

When we raised the issue at the twelfth meeting, Baswan had said that the next meeting would start by reading the C.C.C. Minutes. Unfortunately, when the next meeting was held, there was a new Chairman. Ever since, other members from N.G.O.s have also raised this issue, but we have never seen the light of the C.C.C. Minutes till date.

Once, the current Secretary even told us not to worry about the Minutes of the C.C.C. meetings as he was a member, and was therefore doing things according to decisions taken by the C.C.C.

6. As per the Disability Act, you are supposed to meet at least once in three months. Is that happening?

Earlier, we used to have only one or two meetings (in a year). In the last two years, the situation has improved and we have had three meetings in a year, though not four, as stipulated by the Act.

7. Have these meetings been productive? Are there any specific areas that the C.E.C. has impacted?

I would say that the last two or three meetings have been productive in some ways, though I still feel there is no structure or system to it. A national committee, set up to give policy guidelines for implementation of the Disability Act, needs to formulate a framework based on the Act. We need to have some strategy for implementation and monitoring, and a feedback mechanism. But there is absolutely no system.

In spite of all this, I would say that something has been achieved, even if it is only in terms of moving one small step ahead. In the last meeting, for the first time, the room was full. We have been stressing that there should be representatives at the Joint Secretary level. Till now this rule has not been followed, but at least there were representatives, probably from all concerned ministries. What more, they were also participating in the dialogue. Earlier, the few who turned up used to be absolutely quiet, walking in totally unprepared. So this is a positive change.

In the last meeting, the members were given the document on implementation of National Policy for Persons with Disabilities. Under this, they have suggested action points for all ministries/departments. We suggested that this be circulated so that everyone could respond to it. The officials said they will not circulate it, but could give it on request to N.G.O.s or other interested people.

A lot of discussion has taken place in the area of education and employment, and some directives have gone to H.R.D. and Labour Ministries.

8. The M.S.J.E has suddenly come up with its own set of suggested amendments to the Disability Act, well before the given deadline seeking suggestions from the larger disability sector and other stakeholders. What is your view?

We had stated in the last meeting that people from all over India are interested in giving suggestions for amendments, and that some of them have already sent letters to the M.S.J.E. and more are to follow, requesting extension of time. We also said that we should wait for the final draft of the U.N. Convention. We requested the Ministry to extend the time by six months or a year. The Chairperson then clearly said that they would postpone the deadline (of July 31) by six months.

The trend in the government till now has been that of holding consultations - mainly due to pressure from the disability sector - most of the time as a mere formality. They do their own work, and only suggestions that match with their own modifications are taken into consideration. Based on our Right to Information, when they finally bring out the draft amendments, we need to question the process. And I’m sure that as C.E.C. members, it is our responsibility to bring up this issue in the next meeting.

9. In your earlier interview, you had said that in the twelfth meeting of the C.E.C., sections 41 and 67 of the Disability Act had been discussed. Has there been any progress regarding these?

These issues have been brought up in consequent meetings. No concrete action has been taken regarding insurance and social security scheme. The incentives issue had also come up strongly. But it’s again at the discussion level, and no concrete measure has been taken. In this regard, we also once mentioned that the disability sector had worked out some draft incentives and presented it to the Finance Ministry. But they say that the private sector is not agreeing and that the discussion is still going on.

In education, on issues such as training of regular teachers and inclusive education, the officials say they will interact with the H.R.D. Ministry and see what they can do. That process has also started, but they are not yet talking about shifting education completely to the H.R.D. Ministry. I think that they are still not open to the idea.

10. Would you say the C.E.C. is functioning in a proactive manner, or is it a reactive body? Ultimately, are you satisfied with the functioning of the Committee?

It is functioning more like a reactive body, in an unorganised manner. So it is not performing to its maximum potential in its productive role. There is a lot of room for improvement.

I am definitely not satisfied with the functioning of the Committee. We have a long way to go. But I would say that the disability sector must keep up the pressure because this is bringing about small changes in the functioning of the C.E.C.

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