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A law for equality (thehindu)

By passing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, the Rajya Sabha has adopted a radically transformative piece of legislation that addresses the concerns of arguably the most marginalised section of Indian society. The Lok Sabha should lose no time to approve this Bill in the winter session, bringing to fruition a process that started with India’s ratification of the relevant UN Convention in 2007. A measure of the expansive reach of the Bill that the Upper House passed unanimously is that it is covers as many as 19 conditions — nearly three times the number of disabilities accorded legal protection under the 1995 law. Included are a large number of individuals with multiple impairments, who are the most disadvantaged sections among the disabled. Another welcome provision is the power to notify additional disabilities, a clear recognition of the need to factor in conditions that may arise as a result of an ageing population, an inevitable part of the demographic transition. Relaxation of the upper age limit to access primary and higher education is clear evidence of foresight, given the disproportionately low and delayed enrolment of disabled children in formal schooling. In addition, the incorporation of penal stipulations, a major omission in the predecessor Act, should go some way towards ensuring more effective law enforcement.

The increase in the proportion of reserved positions in public employment and incentives for the private sector to hire disabled candidates are other important departures. The discretionary powers for authorities to determine appropriate avenues of occupation for the disabled would have to be exercised with sensitivity and openness. Experience shows that new technology enables people with disability to undertake tasks that may once have been outside their reach. In this regard, the decision to drop the proposal for the establishment of statutory disabilities commissions at the national and State levels is a lost opportunity. To vest in an advisory body the responsibility to monitor enforcement and violations of the law, as well as financial supervision, is not the most effective approach to promote equal opportunities and combat discrimination. The number of the disabled in India is anywhere between 5 and 10 per cent of the population. Their integration into the mainstream is a developmental and economic imperative. The Vision 2030 blueprint on sustainable development that is in the works is an opening for the Centre to spell out its priorities on disabilities.

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