In a judgment last week, the Supreme Court held that differently-abled persons will be entitled to reservation in the civil services, not just at the time of recruitment, but also in promotions. In doing so, the apex court quashed a 2005 Central government directive that the reservation quota be confined to “identified” posts. The SC ruling intends to give effect to the full scope of the provisions in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. But a lot more will also need to be done if the reservation of jobs is not to remain an intervention at the top, disconnected with and remote from the everyday, ground-level concerns of the groups it is meant to address.
The enabling legislation — and the court directive on its scope and intent — ought to be seen as only a beginning. For the law to be implemented in its true spirit, a concerted effort is needed to streamline and sensitise social and public infrastructure to the rights and needs of the differently-abled. From conducting awareness campaigns to making physical infrastructure friendly to those with special needs, there is a lot for government and society to do. The differently-abled must be seen as equal participants in India’s growth story and the impediments that prevent them from contributing fully must be acknowledged and addressed. This requires a focus on providing better access to public facilities, such as schools, hospitals, recreational areas and government buildings, among other measures.
While the Central government and many states have social welfare schemes for the differently-abled, there is room to understand the special requirements and demands of the groups they intend to address better and tailor the programmes accordingly. Poverty is a major cause of disability. Prevention of disability through poverty alleviation and better nutrition, complemented by better health services, therefore, is one of the first steps that need to be taken. Periodic reviews of welfare schemes using perception surveys among the intended beneficiaries would help the government tweak programmes for better implementation and results. No law can be an effective tool for social transformation unless last-mile issues are addressed.