Persons with disabilities in India and organizations fighting to uphold their rights have gained a new legal recourse for equity and justice. Excerpts from a media release issued by All India Disability Alliance and National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled

Delhi, December 16, 2016: After a long and excruciating wait for nearly three years after its introduction in the Parliament, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill has finally been passed – first in the Rajya Sabha on December 14 and today in the Lok Sabha.

We convey our heartfelt thanks to all Members of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha for the smooth passage of the Bill.

Victory of sustained campaign: We thank the millions of the disabled in the country and their organisations who had participated in the sustained campaign that the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled and the All India Disability Alliance had conducted along with various other organisations demanding that the government come forward with amendments and place the Bill for consideration and passage in this session of Parliament.

Ever since the Parliamentary Standing Committee submitted its recommendations in May 2015, we have undertaken this phased countrywide campaign. As part of this campaign we had dharnas and rallies in all major state capitals and two big rallies in Delhi on December 3, 2015 and December 3, 2016. Fourteen national level disability rights organisations participated in the rally on December 3, 2016.

Amendments address some concerns: We welcome the fact that the some of the major concerns we had raised with regard to certain provisions contained in the Bill have been addressed through official amendments. One of the major amendments concerns bringing private entities within the purview of the definition of ‘establishment’.

Another glaring inadequacy in the Bill was the absence of definition of ‘discrimination’, which has now been introduced as an official amendment. The definition with regard to ‘communication’ has been changed to include sign language as well as video and visual displays. Another amendment provides for sign language interpretation and captioning in TV programmes.

Yet another important amendment strengthens the specific provisions for women and children with disabilities. Reservation in promotions for employees with disabilities has also been provided for in the Bill.

Assurance given by Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment: One of the major concerns that disability rights organisations had was with regard to Section 3(3) of the 2014 Bill which stated that “No person with disability shall be discriminated on the ground of disability, unless it is shown that the impugned act or omission is appropriate to achieve a legitimate aim.”

This clause we had opined gave unfettered power to the implementing authorities to discriminate against persons with disabilities, on the pretext of serving a “legitimate aim”. The official amendment proposed to this section has, to some extent, attempted to narrow the scope of arbitrariness by substituting the word “appropriate” with the words “proportionate means”.

On this, however, the Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment, in response to amendments moved by CPI (M) MPs, has given an assurance in the Rajya Sabha to see that provisions are made in the rules to ensure that this clause is not misused to the disadvantage of persons with disabilities.

The Minister has also assured the House on the amendment moved by CPI (M) MPs Sitaram Yechury, K. K. Ragesh and C. P. Narayanan to Section 33 of the Act that the provision with regard to reservation in employment will be ensured in the Act against the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength and not against identified posts by deleting the words “post meant to be filled by persons with benchmark disabilities”.

However, we would like to also record our dissatisfaction with the reduction in the percentage of reservations in employment from 5 percent proposed in the original Bill to 4 percent and the removal of the provisions for National Commission and State Commission for Persons with Disabilities.

S. K. Rungta, Convenor, All India Disability Alliance and General Secretary, National Federation of the Blind: 0091 93126 07540
Muralidharan, Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled: 0091 98687 68543

Photo credits: National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (main photo) and Shampa Sengupta – both photographs show scenes from a rally organized in Delhi on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3 this year.

For background information and history behind this key development, please see Need for Speed on Disability Rights Law by Shampa Sengupta in the November 2016 issue of Varta, and Disability Rights Milestone in India! published earlier this month – Editor.