Cutting across party lines, the Opposition and treasury benches in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday agreed on passing the Right of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014. The bill, moved by social justice minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, provides for imprisonment up to two years, along with a fine ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against the differently abled.
The legislation, which has been pending in Rajya Sabha since 2014, was drafted on the basis of the recommendations of the Sudha Kaul Committee, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The World Bank estimates that 15% of the world’s population is affected by one disability or another. According to the 2011 Census, the number of disabled in India stands at 2.68 crore, or 2.21 per cent of the population.
The Bill, which complies with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, increases the number of recognised disabilities from 7 to 21, including for the first time disability due to acid attacks and Parkinson’s. It will also benefit people with Thalassemia, Haemophilia, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, Learning Disabilities, etc. It also has a clause against places of employment discriminating against persons with disabilities. With this, the official number of disabled in India will also rise and as per conservative estimates, that figure could be as high as 70-100 million.
The disability sector has been waiting patiently for this. Just making the law took more than five years. Since it was tabled in 2014, it has been examined by the Standing Committee, the Group of Ministers, the PMO, and the Cabinet. Finally, it was approved by the Upper House on Wednesday. Crucially, the Bill provides for access of public buildings for the disabled, crucial in a country with an infamously inaccessible built environment.
The final hurdle before it can become a law is the Lok Sabha. The parliamentarians displayed uncharacteristic camaraderie in the Rajya Sabha when it came to clearing it. Those who pressed for it included Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, Bahaujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. One hopes for the sake of a 70-million-strong invisible minority of India’s physically challenged, the members of the Lok Sabha, too, keep their political differences aside, to pass the Bill today.