The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014, which was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2014, was cleared Thursday with 119 amendments moved by union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot. The legislation, drafted to make Indian laws compliant with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will replace the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. The number of disabilities listed rises from seven in the 1995 Act through 19 in the 2014 bill to 21 after the amendments, including acid attack and Parkinson’s disease.
The bill sets the government a two-year deadline to ensure persons with disability get barrier-free access in all kinds of physical infrastructure and transport systems. It recognises the need for reservation for them in promotion and makes special mention of the rights of disabled women and children. It defines many terms vague in previous versions, including what constitutes discrimination.
While disability rights activists have welcomed the amendments, they are upset about section 3(3) allowing discrimination against a disabled person if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. Prasanna Kumar Pincha, till date the only disabled person appointed Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, welcomed the bill but said this clause leaves “legitimate aim” open to the subjective interpretation of the bureaucracy.
Also, reservation in jobs, once proposed to be enhanced from 3 per cent (1995 Act) to 5 per cent (2014), has now been restricted to 4 per cent. CPM MPs Sitaram Yechury, K K Ragesh and C P Narayanan moved amendments to rectify the discrimination and reservation clauses. Gehlot assured clauses will be inserted when rules are framed to ensure the discrimination clause is not misused. “Why is there a hesitation to address this concern regarding discrimination in the parent act itself?” Pincha said.
“The bill is definitely a stride forward from the 2014 bill,” said advocate S K Rungta, convener of the All India Disability Alliance. He felt there was no need for the bill to dilute the fundamental right to equality as the Supreme Court has often recognised “reasonable classification”. “For example, a blind person cannot be employed in the military. It clearly does not constitute discrimination.”
Another sore point with activists is a provision for a Chief Commissioner of Disabilities instead of National Commission proposed in 2014. The chief commissioner has only recommending powers and there is no provision to ensure he or she too is a disabled person. “Every commission — minorities, women, SCs or STs — has a chairperson from the same category,” said disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh. Another amendment drops imprisonment (two months to six years) for violation. There is only a fine: Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh.