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Sonia panel slams disability bill

New Delhi, July 15: The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council has drilled holes in a draft law to protect the rights of people with disabilities and recommended changes, including in the very definition of the term.

In its report on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill (RPDB), 2011, the council also voiced displeasure that the three nodal ministries involved in the exercise — social justice, health and human resource development — appeared to be operating in isolation.

“All relevant laws concerning rights of persons with disabilities may be reviewed from the viewpoint of avoiding inconsistencies and duplication; and amendments if necessary may be carried out in close coordination by various ministries to ensure furtherance of rights of persons with disabilities,” the NAC report said.

The council recommended that the government do away with multiple laws to deal with disability issues, and said all such statutes should be merged to become part of the new law.

As of now there are four acts that protect the rights of people with disabilities in India.

These are: the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999; National Mental Health Act, 1987; Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995; and the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992.

The report has criticised the social justice ministry’s argument that the new bill should retain in its definition that disability is to be measured by medical impairment alone. It has recommended that the government develop a socio-medical model for measuring both medical and social disabilities faced by a person.

The NAC report, released recently, said the draft bill did not “make a distinction between illness and disability” and did not recognise that psychiatric disability could be episodic, or something that happens occasionally.

“The definition also does not make a distinction between illness and disability. Some persons may have mental illness but may not be disabled; or may not regard themselves to be disabled. The bill needs to take into account that psychiatric disability can be episodic. It should also clearly distinguish between psychiatric disability and psychiatric illness,” the report said.

The NAC said that since the choice of special schools was guaranteed under the proposed bill, the Right to Education Act needed to be amended to include norms for special schools, indicate qualifications for teachers in such schools and the system of certification.

The report also recommended that there should be a provision in the new bill under which sops like “financial and tax benefits” could be offered to private companies for employing people with disabilities.

The “RPDB should also mandate support to families with persons with disabilities in engaging in or accessing gainful employment”, the report said, and recommended “subsidies and finance incentives for starting small scale income generation activities” by such households.

The NAC expressed its reservations on penalties enumerated by the draft bill in case of violations of the rights of the disabled. The council said the penalties were “too generic” and made no distinction between civil consequences and criminal consequences arising out of possible violations.

The penalties, the report said, need to be “more specific”.