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Disability bill divides rights groups

New Delhi, Feb. 9: A disability rights bill the government tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Friday has not only angered activists by ignoring many of their recommendations but also split them.

Javed Abidi is leading one side that is holding protests across Delhi demanding passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014, arguing that something is better than nothing.

“If we oppose this bill, it will be delayed for two more years at least. It’s unfair to hold the entire sector to ransom over these differences,” said Abidi, convener of the Disability Rights Group.

S.K. Rungta, general secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, differs. He “can’t understand the hurry for the bill’s introduction”.

The activists had stood united two months ago when the cabinet cleared the draft bill that was to replace the existing 1995 law. Disappointed with the draft, the disability rights groups had together sent a list of 20 “non-negotiable” recommendations to the government.

The government tabled the original draft in the House on Friday but clarified that night that the cabinet had approved half a dozen among the recommendations on Thursday and these would be tabled on Monday as a set of amendments.

What’s in, what’s out

Some of the recommendations approved (going by the government clarification):

Like government-run educational institutions, private ones too must have seat quotas for the differently abled.

Disability certificates, issued by the states, must be valid across the country.

Those denied clearance are the ones bothering activists like Rungta and Amba Salelkar of Inclusive Planet. Some of these are:

The bill fails to define “low vision” so it can be distinguished from “blindness” and accorded a separate quota.

Rungta narrated how all the 73 posts reserved for the blind during a recent railway recruitment drive for Group D staff went to those with low vision, with not a single blind candidate appointed.

Activists also want distinctions made between deafness and hardness of hearing, and between serious locomotive disorders and marginal disabilities.

The bill has increased the overall disability quota from 3 to 5 per cent but the rights groups wanted 6 per cent.

The activists wanted abolition of the compulsory requirement of (court-approved) guardians for the mentally challenged, saying it should be a matter of choice. Instead, the bill has introduced “limited guardianship”, where the differently able person can contest the choice of guardian.

The bill lacks a chapter on women. “The Supreme Court had ruled in 2009 that a mentally challenged woman can choose to have children but the bill says a severely disabled woman’s pregnancy can be terminated with her guardian’s consent,” Salelkar said.

The bill has raised the number of disabilities from seven to 19 by including conditions such as haemophilia, thalassaemia, speech impairment and autism.

It stipulates that the government research the causes of disabilities, promote methods of prevention, screen “at risk” children at least once a year, sponsor awareness campaigns, and ensure prenatal, peri-natal and post-natal care of mothers and babies.