A Bill as politically non-contentious as the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, on which the aspirations of millions of people with disabilities are riding, is, shocking though this may sound, stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it was recently introduced in the Rajya Sabha but disruptions over political issues like Telangana have ensured that the Bill, which seeks to increase the reservation quota for the disabled in public sector jobs and seats in higher educational institutions, was not taken up for discussion.
On the other hand, the disability rights activists seem to be divided over the proposed amendments as it is alleged that their recommendations have been ignored and it is a watered down version of their earlier demands. Moreover, it was a leaked copy of the Bill that made activists realise that the Bill to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha was not the same as the one available on the website of the ministry of social justice and empowerment, leading to protest rallies in Delhi. While the Bill, rightly, seeks to raise the number of disabilities from seven to 19, it includes only those who suffer not less than 40% of the relevant disability — this many activists feel is quite ambiguous especially in cases of intellectual disabilities and it does not ensure full legal capacity to people with disabilities.
In a country where of 70 million people with disabilities, only about 100,000 have succeeded in obtaining employment in industry, and inaccessible public infrastructure is a cause of their daily travails, this was a controversy the government could have done without had the authorities concerned kept all the stakeholders in the loop. However, practicality suggests that parliamentarians, cutting across the party lines, must now rise above politics and ensure that the Bill sees the light of day.
The Bill may be far from being perfect but given the fact that the ongoing Parliament session is the last one before the general elections, there’s no time to lose. There are several social and infrastructural barriers that need to be crossed to make the Bill effective on the ground. Instead of taking a one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back approach, the government must show urgency to build on what already exists.