- In the context of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court has come out with a series of directions to ensure that public infrastructure is accessible to differently-abled persons.
What is the “Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016”?
- After Rajya Sabha, on 16th December, 2016, the Lok Sabha passed “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016”.
- The Bill replaces the existing PwD Act, 1995, which was enacted 21 years back.
The salient features of the “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016” are:
Addition in types of disability:
- Disability has been defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept.
- The types of disabilities have been increased from existing 7 to 21.
- The Central Government will have the power to add more types of disabilities.
- Every child with benchmark disability will get free education from 6 to 18 years of the age.
- Reservation to the differently abled person in the education and government jobs has been increased from 3% to 4%.
- An important distinguishing feature of the 2016 Act is that it provides for time limits within which existing infrastructure and premises should be made disabled friendly.
- The obligations laid down in the Act are mandatory for both government and private establishments.
- Creation of National and State Fund will be created to provide financial support to the persons with disabilities.
- The existing National Fund for Persons with Disabilities and the Trust Fund for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities will be subsumed with the National Fund.
Grant of guardianship:
- The Bill provides for grant of guardianship by District Court, under which there will be joint decision, making between the guardian and the persons with disabilities.
- Special Courts will be designated in each district to handle cases concerning violation of rights of PwDs.
Persons with benchmark disabilities:
- Additional benefits such as reservation in higher education, government jobs, reservation in allocation of land, poverty alleviation schemes etc. have been provided for persons with benchmark disabilities and those with high support needs.
The 21 disabilities are given below:
- Leprosy Cured persons
- Hearing Impairment (deaf and hard of hearing)
- Locomotor Disability
- Intellectual Disability
- Mental Illness
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Cerebral Palsy
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Chronic Neurological conditions
- Specific Learning Disabilities
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Speech and Language disability
- Sickle Cell disease
- Multiple Disabilities including deaf blindness
- Acid Attack victim
- Parkinson’s disease
What was “The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995”?
- The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 was enacted in 1995.
- It was enacted to give effect to the Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of the People with Disability in the Asian & Pacific Region (Beiijing 1992).
The aims and objectives of the Act were:
- To spell out the responsibility of the state towards the prevention of disabilities, protection of rights, provision of medical care, education, training, employment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities;
- to create a barrier free environment for person with disabilities in the sharing of development benefits, vis-a –vis non disabled persons;
- to counteract any situation of abuse and exploitation of persons with disabilities; and
- to make special provision of the integration of persons with disabilities into the social mainstream.
Where has the PwD Act, 1995 possibly lagged for which The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016 has been introduced?
Absence of protection against discrimination:
- The new “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill – 2016” empowers the right to equality, preservation of dignity and personal liberty which was absent in the PwD Act, 1995.
Limitation in types of disability:
- Disability being a dynamic concept needed an expansion in its types; the former act had incorporated only seven types of disability.
Absence of benchmark disabilities:
- The 1995 Act had no special provision for persons with benchmark disabilities.
Limited social security:
- The 1995 Act’s focus on social security was limited to financial assistance and insurance coverage-community participation.
- The recreational approaches were ignored.
Gender specific clauses:
- Gender specific clauses make the new Act gender sensitive, a significant development over the 1995 Act.
- Penal provisions for violating the provisions of the 1995 Act was weak.
- Also the Officer of Chief Commissioner and State Commissioner for PwDs was not vested with enough strength and power.
What is the strategy of the Supreme Court in the context of public infrastructure accessibility to differently-abled persons?
- The Supreme Court directed states to identify 10 most important cities or towns.
- It also orders complete the accessibility audit of 50 per cent of government buildings at these places by February 28, 2018.
- The retrofitting work would be completed by December 2019.
- Regarding Central government buildings, the bench said that the work be completed by August next year.
- The court also directed the government to lay down a plan giving dates by which this task would be undertaken and asked it to furnish the same before it within three months.
- It becomes the duty of the Union, states as well as Union Territories to take up the matter.
- It is also important to ensure that all government buses are disabled friendly in accordance with the harmonized guidelines.
- Lastly, the citizens of the country should not leave any stone unturned to make the lives of the differently abledones much easier.