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TAKING THEIR CRUTCH AWAY

Jaswant Singh has presented a “ please all” budget, ensuring that nobody is disappointed including disabled persons and their families. But his consideration is just short of easing the tough conditions which affect the less fortunate.

In his budget, Sinha has increased the exemption limit from Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 for persons suffering from 40 per cent and above physical disability, and also for persons with such a dependent. Similarly, exemption has been allowed up to Rs 75,000 for persons with 80 per cent or more disability and also for persons with such a dependent.

This does appear to be a considerable amount, but in effect, the proposed exemption limit provides minimum relief within the current tax structure. To provide the basic facilities of education and rehabilitation for a permanently disabled person, whether it is the person himself or a dependent, requires a considerable amount of money. There is a longstanding demand to increase the exemption limit up to one lakh rupees for persons with 40 per cent or more disability.

Look at the others

In this budget, the price of air-conditioners, cars and imported gold has been slashed at the same rate as that of aids and appliances for challenged people. It is ironical that after a period of approximately seven years, the government has shown very little interest in implementing the Disability Act of 1995, to provide quality provisions for the disabled. Following a recent demand by the disability sector, the government constituted a committee under the ministry of social justice and empowerment, which recommended full exemption of aids and appliances from excise and customs duties.

The finance minister lowered the duties to five per cent on hearing-aids, wheelchairs, crutches and other such appliances, without special additional duties. The question is, why can’t the government allow full exemption, especially since it has been recommeded by the committee' Paralytic patients are well aware of the dearth of good quality indigenous diapers, which cost between Rs 50 and Rs 75 for three to four flushes.

During a recent visit to east Asia, I was overwhelmed to learn that good quality diapers were being sold for Rs 15 a piece. I was told that on producing a doctor’s certificate, a wheelchair could be got at 65 per cent less the price. The government of India should be able to provide similar facilities to disabled and challenged people here.

Faults in the policy

According to the Disability Act, the government is supposed to provide free education to disabled children up to the age of 18 years. But the government has not only dishonoured this law, but has also been withdrawing its contribution to special schools at frequent intervals.

It is unfortunate that these challenged people cannot avail themselves of medical insurance because they are already clinically unsound. When all healthy people can enjoy the benefits of insurance, why should these people be deprived, especially when it is they who require it most'

The Life Insurance Corporation has a policy for the challenged, with the condition that a part of the assured money will be given to the affected person after the guardian’s death. A more suitable plan would be to have a lump sum of money disbursed to the family when the disabled person is twenty years of age or on the expiry of the guardian, whichever is earlier. Following this, the challenged person should get a monthly pension till death. The pension scheme of a government employee with a challenged dependent also needs review.

Disabled people in India are suffering both mentally and financially. Unfortunately, the government reacts only when there is external pressure either through an act or agitation by activist groups. The government should aim at providing minimum facilities to disabled individuals to ensure an improvement in their conditions.

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