INTERVIEW: Fighting for rights of the disabled in Himachal, Ajai Srivastava takes the call

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    By: VIKAS DOGRA

    What the state government could not do in nine years of implementation of the People With Disability (PWD) Act 1995, a people’s initiative did it in just a month – listening to the problems of disabled. After its formation in August this year, the Himachal Chapter of Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies took no time in getting down to work and soon came the first success story.

    In August, Tarun Kumar a 70 per cent disabled student (with hearing and speech impairment) approached the Society with a complaint of denial of admission to a particular course at ITI in Shimla.

    Ajai Srivastava, Chairman of the Himachal Chapter says, “Tarun had sought admission to Motor Mechanics trade at the ITI. Though only six students had applied against the seven seats in the handicapped category the student was asked to take admission in Carpentry.” After conducting inquiry into the case, Srivastava learnt that there was no representative of the handicapped in the interview panel that was in violation of the PWD Act. The principal was sent a show cause notice by the Commissioner for the People With Disabilities and within a week, the student got admission to the trade of his choice.

    This was also the first case since 1997 that came to the notice of the Commissioner for the People With Disabilities and was disposed off successfully.

    In a candid interview with HimVani, Ajai Srivastava, the force behind the nascent revolution talks about the future plans of the society. Excerpts:

    HimVani: Why do you think has the implementation of the Act had so may hurdles here?
    Srivastava:
    …lack of awareness – about the Act, the rights and the facilities for the disabled, which should have been created by the state. There have hardly been any awareness campaigns. No wonder then that even some of the administrators took the PWD Act to be Public Works Department Act. And the common man did not know whom to approach in case of such a problem.

    HimVani: What is the objective of the Society?
    Srivastava: We have decided to start with awareness. The reason is that till people are unaware about the mechanism for redressing their complaints and certain provisions in the law, they would find it useless to even talk about their problems. Some seminars have been conducted at various places in the state. We are also taking up the issue through radio talks.

    HimVani: Have more cases of violations of the rights of people with disability come to light after the formation of Society?
    Srivastava:
    Soon after the ITI case, a group of blind employees approached us with a complaint of delay in wages and after intervention of the society, their wages were released on the third day. During one of the interactive programmes on All India Radio, Shimla, people called up with queries of rehabilitation and sustenance of the disabled. And the people were informed about Minority Commission’s special loans to the disabled for setting up small businesses. The most recent case is of a bank employee of Solan, which is still being followed.

    HimVani: So what do you think the state can do to uphold the rights of the disabled?
    Srivastava:
    First make the Commissioner’s office approachable and hurdle free. Currently, it is on the third floor in the state secretaria,t which being a seat of power is also not approachable by a common man. Though there is a lift till his office, there are other hassles like making a pass, then taking time from the PA (personal assistant) to meet him, as the Commissioner also is holding an additional charge of the Principal Secretary. We would also press for a separate Commissioner who is a technocrat. Even the Joint Commissioner’s office at the SDA Complex in Kasumpti is on the third floor. It does not even have a lift.

    The next is monthly redressal of the grievances, which is not being done in Himachal. The instructions of the Principal Secretary to Deputy Commissioners of all 12 districts to hold such meetings on second Monday of every month are being violated.

    HimVani: Now that you have been nominated to the Planning Commission’s Working Group on Disabled People, how would you present Himachal’s case there?
    Srivastava:
    The priority would be to frame a separate or a sub-policy for the disabled of the hilly areas. For example, in hilly areas, a wheel chair is not sufficient for the movement of handicapped. If he is to work at some office, he cannot be fully independent while traveling. Here, things like barrier free environment or alternate modes of transportation would have to be worked out.

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