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Persons With Disabilities Denied Adequate Resources

Bharat Dogra |
Stagnant funding, low allocations, badly-planned policies: people who live with disability deserve better.
Disabilities Act Must be Dropped

Not long after the summer, to prepare the Union Budget for the next financial year, the central government will start engaging with “captains of industry” and a variety of interest groups. Hopefully, persons with disabilities will be higher up on this list and not get such a raw deal next year as this year and the last.

In any growing society, no matter what crisis it is facing, the disabled should be a high-priority section. India must cater to the needs of people living with disabilities, at least in terms of adequate allocation of resources. All governments must strive to reskill, train, educate, and make life easier for this population.

In India, the official numbers of the PwD are around 28 million (2.8 crores). It works out to 2.2% of the population, or a population equivalent to Australia or Sri Lanka. Such a large population with special needs cannot fend for itself: the PwD need assistance and care to different degrees, which the government must fund through targeted schemes and projects.

The 2011 Census listed seven disabilities, but the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, passed in 2016, included 21 disabilities after widespread demands. Naturally, the number of persons identified as living with disabilities is growing in India. India enacted the 2016 legislation to address the specific needs and demands of this segment.

In addition, the Union government and the Department for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) are also responsible for implementing international conventions and agreements that relate to the PwD. For example, Indian policy needs to be in sync with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

In September 2019, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) submitted a report to the Union government. It recommended increasing allocations for PwD and said the funding should considering actual needs. It also said the particular requirements of children, the shortage of sign language interpreters and trainers and the neglected PwD in rural areas need more attention. One specific demand it raised was higher pensions to the deserving.

It is distressing that allocations in the Union Budget for PwD have oscillated from 0.2 to 0.5% of total expenditure in recent years. This variance is because there is no reliable way to assess the number of PwD in India. Nor is there a standard way in which the Centre and states calculate the needs of this section. That said, the allocations for PwD have stagnated rather than increased in India. In some priority areas, the allocation has fallen.

In its review of allocation and expenditure trends for the PwD published in 2020, the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) said, “...almost all schemes that lead to the participation of persons with disabilities such as Assistance to Disabled Persons for purchasing/fitting of aids/appliances, the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India, the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation(NHFDC) show a declining trend.”

This year, the CBGA said, there were still more cuts in the allocation to the DEPwD. The figure fell by Rs.154 crores in the Budget Estimate of 2021-22 compared to the Budget Estimate of 2020-21.

Remember, this fall is taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic when lockdowns have created shortages in emergency medical care and regular hospital care. The allocation for the national institutes that deal with disability-related issues also declined from Rs.360 crore in 2020-21 to Rs.319 crore in 2021-22.

Further, while the scheme for Improvement and Augmentation of Braille Presses was allocated Rs.10 crores in 2018-19 and Rs.8 crores the following year, it got zero funds in the next two years. Similarly, the Indian Sign Language, Research and Training Centre got an allocation of Rs.5 crores each in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but in the next two years, it got no fund allocation.

The Scheme for the Implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act is critical vis-a-vis the 2016 law in which the Centre invested much fanfare. The PwD had high expectations from this new policy too. Yet, the already low Budget Estimate of Rs.315 crores in 2019-20 was cut to Rs.252 crores in the Budget Estimate for 2020-21. Now it has been reduced to Rs. 210 crore in 2021-22 (BE).

The National Institute of Mental Health and Rehabilitation was allocated Rs.20 crores in 2019-20, but over the next two years, we do not find any allocation for this institute in the Union Budget. It is unfortunate, considering the constant warnings that there is a mental-health crisis in the country, exacerbated by growing unemployment and loss of sources of income since March 2020.

The National Mental Health Program budget has not changed from Rs.40 crores last year though a significant increase was expected. The Union government runs the Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme for PwD. In terms of resource allocation, the scheme is stagnating; there was not even a modest increase last year, although the CRPD report emphasised social protection.

Tracking specific allocations for these schemes and projects is not easy, as all programs do not seem to feature in the budget documents. Nevertheless, from the limited available information, it is clear that persons with disabilities have not received adequate resources in recent years. It is an injustice to them and deeply ironic, considering India recently passed a law that promises better protection and rights.

The government would find it hard to justify the decline in several priority schemes meant for people living with disabilities. The government raised the hopes of Pwd and activists in the field, then failed them by denying adequate resources. Remedial action in the form of adequate funds for persons with disabilities is the way out of this conundrum.

The writer is a journalist and author. His recent books are Protecting Earth For Children and Man over Machine. The views are personal.

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