Faced with a widespread backlash, the government has swiftly withdrawn a contentious proposal that would have effectively watered down the law dealing with rights of disabled persons in order to attract more investments.
The amendment to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 was pitched by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities — under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment — and sought “decriminalisation of minor offences for improving business sentiment and unclogging court processes”.
Amid an uproar from the community of disabled persons, activists and organisations — who say that the 2016 Act gave the disabled community robust protection because of the strong punitive measures entailed in it — the Ministry has said in a notification that the Department “is now of the considered view, that going ahead with the proposed amendment for compounding of offences may not be in the interest of persons with disabilities”.
This is a significant step back from the Department’s earlier stand that the decriminalisation of minor offences would alleviate the risk of imprisonment for actions which do not necessarily have “malafide intent” and that the Act was a hurdle in attracting investments by domestic and foreign investors which was necessary to revive the economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
As many as 125 signatories and disability activists and groups from across the country had written to the Ministry protesting the proposal. “This is a victory for us. Especially the swift manner in which the government has reacted to our opposition… The disabled community was unified in its view that this amendment, and the dilution of penal provisions it proposed, would have made the Act toothless and removed the protection it gives to the disabled community, a very marginalised community in the country,” said General Secretary, National Platform for Rights of the Disabled, Murlidharan.
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