While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley claimed that the budget of the NDA government presented Thursday aimed to “enhance ease of living” of the common man, disability rights activists claimed the community was excluded from this bracket.
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) issued a statement on the Union Budget 2018 calling it “a big disappointment” for the disabled community. The NPRD general secretary, Muralidharan, pointed out that during Jaitley’s nearly two-hour-long budget speech, the disabled community was merely mentioned twice without any specific details or schemes.
“It seems as though the disabled do not figure in the Finance Minister’s “fast growth economy” trajectory,” the NPRD statement read. As compared to the previous budget, where the government had allocated Rs 855 crores for the department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability, this year’s budget has increased the amount it to Rs 1,070 crore. However, activists state this is not enough.
The budget in its “miserly outlay” allocated Rs 300 crore towards the Schemes for the Implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act (SIPDA) which provides financial assistance for implementation of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act.
“The 2016 Act has various provisions which require huge allocation of money. You [the government] pass a law but unless there is support for budgetary allocation, it cannot be implemented,” Muralidharan told IndianExpress.com. “In the budget statement and speech, we find no mention for budgetary allocation for implementation of Three Year Action plan for the disabled people,” Meenakshi Balasubramanian, Project coordinator, Equals Centre for Promotion of Social Justice, said.
The grants provided under SIPDA are crucial since they are related to making public spaces and transport system more accessible, offer skill development programmes and make government websites accessible to the disabled community among other things.
Since the Railway budget too was presented with the Union Budget this year, the NPRD questioned the progress made by the railways on existing schemes on accessibility. “While there is no mention about the progress in the implementation of the announcement made last year of providing lifts and escalators in 500 railway stations, this year the Finance Minister has announced that escalators would be provided at 600 stations having a footfall of 25,000 and above. Lifts which can be used by the disabled do not find mention in his speech. Also missing mention is about fulfilling the commitment made in the 2016-17 budget to provide accessible toilets at all railway stations,” the statement read.
NPRD also said it was “ironical” that on the one hand, the government announced the National Health Protection Scheme today which would cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families, and on the other hand it failed to release money for Swavlamban Health Insurance Scheme launched in 2015 for persons with disabilities.
One of the key grievances has also been the absence of disaggregated data on allocations across various ministries for disability. “Disability is not just empowerment of persons with disabilities. It should be there in health, education and other departments. For instance, special schools come under the empowerment department. But other schools come under HRD and for making education accessible to persons with disabilities [in these mainstream schools], what are the allocations being made?” Muralidharan asked. He also questioned the silence on Mental Health in the budget despite the enactment of the Mental Health Care Act in 2017.
The draft three year action agenda of the Niti Aayog, released in 2017, also noted that the “socio-economic empowerment of PwDs is an inter-sectoral issue” and it had “not received adequate attention from different Ministries and Departments.”