The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Law hazy on legal guardian for disabled

What happens after we are gone' A question haunting guardians of every disabled child.

Though the law offers some solace — in the form of legal guardianship — the scheme has not met with much success in Calcutta. The reason: both guardians and officials of the state social welfare department are uncertain about certain sections of the National Trust Act.

“The matter of taking action against legal guardians if they fail to perform their duties is not clearly spelt out in the act,” said Sudhir Dutta, joint commissioner for persons with disabilities.

The act was framed recently for the welfare of those suffering from cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism and multiple disability, on demands from guardians of those suffering from these severe forms of disability.

One of the most important provisions of the Act is to offer legal guardianship to the disabled. “Parents worry about the future of their disabled children, so the idea is to form a legal basis whereby someone will be authorised to take care of them and handle all financial matters on their behalf,” said Dutta, adding that this provided some kind of a safety net.

The social welfare department has already formed local-level committees in all districts, including Calcutta, for the purpose. The work of a local-level committee — comprising a chairman, a physically challenged person and a representative from an organisation working for the disabiled — is to confer legal guardianship as well as to sensitise families of the disabled.

The problem, however, arises when a legal guardian fails to perform his duties. “Parents often want to know on what basis action can be taken against legal guardians, and whether the process is foolproof,” said Dutta.

Shukla Bhaduri, founder and general secretary of Mentaid, an association for the development of the mentally handicapped, also raised similar doubts. “How does one define neglect or abuse'” she asked, referring to some of the grounds on which action can be taken against legal guardians. “What if, despite an instruction from the local committee, the legal guardian does not want to give up his position of authority'” wondered Sudhir Dutta.

It is really not clear to what extent the local committee can penalise a legal guardian under such circumstances.

“Those living in the city want to know the exact details of the law, and want to be completely convinced before they take any important decision. Since we haven’t been able to convince them, the rate of legal guardianship for the disabled has been very low in Calcutta,” admitted Dutta.

The social welfare department, under which the office of the commissioner for persons with disabilities functions, has taken serious note of the problem and will discuss the matter soon.

Suicide case hearing

Alipore sessions court judge S.N. Ghosh has fixed December 16 as the fresh date for hearing in the Chandni Agarwal suicide case. The city girl, who was married to Ludhiana-based businessman Gaurav Agarwal, committed suicide in her south Calcutta home on October 28.

Joginder Agarwal, Chandni’s father, had filed a dowry complaint case against her in-laws, alleging that his daughter had been driven to her death by the harassment she suffered at their hands.

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