No accord for disability rights in Himachal

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By: Ajai Srivastava

Himachal Pradesh is doing quite well in education, health, horticulture and many other sectors. But unfortunately, its performance in the field of disability is very poor. Not only the topography of this hilly state but lack of sensitivity at social and governmental level is posing a big challenge before the disabled community. More than two lakh disabled population of the state is completely deprived of their constitutional rights.

Even eleven years after the enforcement of Persons with Disability (PWD) Act. The government has not been able to evolve a state disability policy. The lack of political will and hostile attitude of bureaucracy towards this marginalised section of the society is a matter of great concern. Now a strong disability rights movement is the need of the hour so that the disabled could get equal opportunities. The work in this connection has been started, although quite late.

It is interesting that no authentic data about the number of disabled persons is available with the government. The Department of Social Justice and Empowerment conducted a survey in 2000-01 which put the number of the disabled at 64,772. But the census report of 2001 revealed that 1, 55,950 persons are disabled in the state. Even this figure can not be said as authentic because the persons who carried out the census operations were not trained to collect the data about disability. Therefore the total number of the disabled will be much more than the official figure. One can easily imagine that without knowing the number of the target group, how the officials would be preparing and implementing the policies and programmes for the welfare of the disabled. Collection of authentic data about the disabled is the main requirement under the PWD Act.

The PWD Act has a clear mention that the state governments would evolve a state disability policy. This act was enforced in the country on February 7, 1996. Since then, the government of Himachal Pradesh made no serious effort to prepare this policy document. The government even ignored the directions of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in this regard which had in 2002 written to the Chief Minister asking him to constitute a task force to prepare a policy for the disabled. The NHRC had also directed the government to monitor the implementation of that policy. Not only this, that statutory body of the country had asked the state to formulate a plan of action after vertical integration of the schemes of all the departments for the disabled and create a barrier free infrastructure on priority. But the state government showed the directions the dustbin.

Under the PWD Act, it is mandatory to constitute a State Coordination Committee (SCC) and a State Executive Committee (SEC). The former is a policy framing body and the later is its implementation wing. These committees were constituted after several years of enforcement of the act only due to the pressure built by the print media. It was a must to meet at least once in six months for the SCC and in three months for the SEC. But the reality is entirely different. The meetings of these important committees are never held on time.

It is made mandatory for the state under the Act to provide a mechanism to the disabled for solving their problems. That is the appointment of a Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (Disability Commissioner). But every thing in this regard has been done on papers only. The government had given additional charge of this post to the Principal Secretary, Social Justice and Empowerment way back in 1999. This was just an eye wash. Till today, there was neither a sign board or name plate of the disability commissioner in the government secretariat. This senior IAS officer has constitutional responsibility on his shoulders to ensure barrier free environment to the disabled. When he has not removed barriers from the office the Disability Commissioner, how would he fulfil his responsibilities in the entire state?

This most important office remained non functional until the Society for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies (SDRS), Himachal Pradesh Chapter, filed a complaint on behalf of a cent percent hearing impaired boy Tarun Kumar in the court of disability commissioner in August 2006. He was denied admission in the ITI at Shimla under the provision of three percent reservation for the disabled. This was the first case in the court of the Disability Commissioner and the SDRS made history when Tarun was given admission after the principal of ITI received the summon from the said court.

The history was repeated when SDRS in October 2006 filed another case in the court of the Disability Commissioner. This time the victims were class- IV daily waged visually impaired employees. Their wages were not released by the government for several months and it was very difficult for them to meet both end meal. The issue was highlighted in the media also and they were given their due. Unfortunately this time the Disability Commissioner did not bother to respond to the complaint because one of the victims was an employee of his own department. The SDRS got success in releasing their wages very next day through the pressure built by media.

Disabled are dealt with raw hands in the state by the government agencies. Proper health, education and transportation facilities are not accessible to them. Higher or vocational education in an appropriate environment and employment is still a far dream for them. A research study conducted by the Chairman, SDRS, Himachal Pradesh Chapter has revealed that it will take more than 150 years to provide government jobs under 3 percent reservation to the existing 11,887 unemployed who are registered with the special employment exchange if the pace of giving them jobs remain the same as it was in the last 30 years and the new registrations are banned.

The government has failed to identify the posts where the disabled are to be accommodated, although it is mandatory under the Act. That is why the 3 percent reservation is given to them in files only. The literacy rate among the disabled is only 52 percent and 92 percent of their population live in rural and remote areas. Seeing the apathetic attitude of the governmental agencies, some people knocked the door of the state high court and their PILs are pending there in.

That is the situation in which only a strong disability rights movement in the state can provide the solution.. The SDRS has started the work in this direction with the help of various NGOs and individuals working for the cause. Some workshops and lectures have been organized, four Live Phone-in programmes on disability rights have been broadcast on All India Radio Shimla and one Live Phone-in has been telecast on Doordarshan Shimla apart from other activities. The print media is also providing good support to the cause. The main thrust is on making the disabled and the public aware of the rights of the disabled. In this connection the SDRS has instituted two Awards in the field of disability and media. If the people in general and the disabled in particular are involved in the right manner, we will start seeing results very soon. Help and support in this regard from all quarters is solicited.

The author can be reached at: ajaisri02 [AT] yahoo [DOT] co [DOT] in
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