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Disability jab at companies

New Delhi, Nov. 23: Private companies could soon be penalised for not hiring people with disabilities or discriminating against such employees, according to a draft bill that has for the first time brought the sector under the ambit of a planned legislation.

The existing 1995 law, which the social justice ministry seeks to replace, covers only public sector organisations or those aided by the government.

The ministry is in the final stage of consultation with all stakeholders and will send the draft to the cabinet soon, sources said.

The Draft Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2012, has expanded the definition of the term “establishment” to include the private sector and increased the percentage of jobs to be set aside for the differently abled. While such reservation is not binding on private companies, the draft has recommended financial incentives and disincentives to make such firms fall in line.

“The three big-ticket changes in the draft are that reservation for disabled people has been increased from three to five per cent; second, many new disabilities have been added and, third, the private sector will now be accountable…. If you ask me which of the three is the most significant, I would say the last one,” said Javed Abidi, director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People.

“Also, incorporating the private sector in the definition of ‘establishments’ means they have to abide by the general provisions of the law, unless specified otherwise.”

The Disability Rights Group founder believes the proposed legislation will be a step in the right direction. “If this bill is passed, many jobs once closed to the disabled will open up,” he said.

The draft has also expanded the list of disabilities, including disorders like autism, haemophilia and thalassaemia, and speech impairment that were not part of the People with Disabilities Act, 1995.

The bill has recommended stiff penalties for not having proper infrastructure for the differently abled and discriminating against such employees.

The penalty can extend up to Rs 50,000 with an additional fine of up to Rs 1,000 for every day of continued contravention since the date the punishment was imposed.

The draft has a separate chapter on the private sector with instructions for state governments to ensure that employers reserve at least 5 per cent of jobs for the differently abled within a period of five years after the proposed law kicks in.

Although the draft does not make such reservation mandatory for private companies, it has suggested incentives and disincentives to make such companies do so.

It says if a company, with 20 or more staff, has differently abled employees who make up at least 5 per cent of the workforce, it shall be eligible to deduct from its taxable income an amount equal to the salary of these employees in excess of the 5 per cent.

In other words, if a company with 100 employees has seven differently abled persons on its rolls, it can deduct from its taxable income the salaries of two such employees.

But if a company with 100 employees has, say, just three differently abled people on its rolls, it shall be liable to add to its taxable income the amount equal to the salaries of two of these employees.

Abidi explained why this carrot-and-stick policy could work. “The government cannot enforce any reservation on the private sector. By giving the sector tax exemptions, the government has given them an impetus to hire differently abled people,” he said. “Also, employers would rather hire their quota of differently abled people than pay more tax.”