Arpita Chatterjee is spending sleepless nights. Not because the doctor has told her that she has a terminal illness and that her days are numbered, but because she doesn’t know who will take care of her 30-year-old retarded son after her.
Chatterjee’s case is not uncommon. In fact, most families of persons with disabilities are worried about the fate of their wards after their deaths. Even if there are legal provisions for taking care of the disabled, their families are not aware.
Now, the state government will take up a programme of sensitising guardians of persons with four categories of disability — autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities. The state social welfare department has decided to work out the provisions of the National Trust for the Welfare of Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, after meetings with the chairperson of the National Trust, Aloka Guha.
Guha, recently in Calcutta as part of her trip across Bengal, had three divisional meetings involving district magistrates, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), persons with disabilities, divisional commissioners and officers from the state commissioner for disability.
“Most guardians are confused about who will take care of their disabled children after they die. They rarely know that there are legal provisions of conferring guardianship. Our duty is to sensitise them on these legal provisions,” said state joint commissioner of disabilities Sudhir Dutta. They doubt the efficacy of the Act in protecting their wards after their death, he added.
Under the Act, a local-level committee, comprising the district magistrate as chairperson, an NGO working with the disabled and a disabled person, should be formed at the district level. These committees have already been formed in the state. In Calcutta, the chairperson of the committee is the state commissioner for disabilities. This committee is in charge of conferring guardianship, Dutta said.
Also, in case of complaints, the committee can remove a person from guardianship after conducting an inquiry, or even start a suo motu case. The office of the commissioner of disabilities is already acting as the nodal agency in implementing the Act, and district magistrates have been declared ex-officio additional commissioners for persons with disabilities in their districts.