<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>After wasting 18 days in pandemonium on demonetization, the Rajya Sabha finally conducted its first legislative business of the Winter Session on Wednesday, unanimously passing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016.The exhaustive Bill, containing 119 amendments, had 59 suggestions from the Standing Committee that were accepted by the government.Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Thawar Chand Gehlot, said: “All the standing committee recommendations have been accepted. The number of categories of disabled are to be increased for physical as well as mental disabilities.”CPM leader Sitaram Yechury asked the government to remove the clause “this does not apply to posts that require people who are not disabled” and sought that the “reservation should be based on cadre strength, not on number of vacancies meant to be filled” to which Gehlot said he would ensure this is incorporated in the Rules later.To another issue raised by Yechury on the competent authority who will define certain disabilities, Gehlot said the medical board will decide on the definition as well as what disabilities are.Congress MP Viplove Thakur raised the need to extend the provision of disability pension to people below 18 years of age. Genhot replied that the benefit was not provided in the laws.The Bill was introduced by the UPA government in 2014, and an independent body of experts, The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), was set up in 2010 under activist Sudha Kaul to draw up the Bill and also to monitor policies regarding disability.While the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, identifies blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness as disability, the 2016 Bill extends that to over 21 disabilities. These include autism spectrum disorder, blindness, cerebral palsy, locomotor disability, low-vision, leprosy cured persons, hearing impairment (deaf and hard of hearing), dwarfism, intellectual disability, mental illness, muscular dystrophy, chronic neurological conditions, specific learning disabilities, multiple sclerosis, speech and language disability, thalassemia, haemophilia, sickle, cell disease, multiple disabilities, survivors of acid attacks, and Parkinson’s disease.The 2016 Bill is also compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by India in 2007, adding for the first time, punitive action against those who discriminate against the disabled. While first-time offenders are now punishable for a 6-month jail time, and a fine of Rs 10,000, repeat offenders will be punishable of a jail term of up to 2 years with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.The Bill also makes those with over 40 per cent disability to state benefits, including reservations in employment, education, railway tickets, etc., and increased the existing reservation quota of three per cent to five per cent, adding one per cent each for those suffering from mental illnesses and multiple disabilities.Guardianship of two types have been introduced by the Bill, including limited guardianship wherein the differently-challenged person takes joint decisions with the guardian, and plenary guardianship, where the guardian can take decisions on behalf of him/her.The Bill also extends the definition of “establishment” to include private bodies, and requires all existing public buildings to be made accessible for persons with disability, within five years.Another Standing Committee recommendation the Bill will adopt is the introduction of a sub-section on the rights of women and children with disabilities, which will help women and children access rights of equality and empowerment.While lauding the inclusiveness of the Bill, Dr Indumathi Rao of the CBR Network said that one of the drawbacks of the Bill is that it does not include infirmity due to old age, which is a crippling worry for many. “The government needs to follow this up by an increase in the budgetary allocation. And, since disability is a state subject, a massive awareness campaign to let people know about the new amendments is needed,” she said.Vikas Sharma of Disability Helpline India says that the Bill also ignores demands for the inclusion of political reservation for the disabled. “If we are looking at equity, we need to extend that to the highest echelons of the government,” he said.The government is expecting to table and pass the Bill in the Lok Sabha in the last remaining days of the Winter Session.
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