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Resource id #4 Social Security and Disabled People in India - Volume 4 Issue 10: Disability News and Information Service for India

Feature

Volume 4 Issue 10 - May 15, 2006

Social Security and Disabled People in India

In mainstream development policy a simplistic view prevails where the conventional belief is that disabled people are incapable of earning and thus are economically dependent on their families or communities, or on charity. Most development programmes in India are inaccessible to disabled people mostly because of social or physical barriers that surround them. Chitra S. Shankar finds that Social Security programmes in India do not adequately reach disabled people. There is very little idea as regards the inclusion of disabled people in programme design and delivery of safety nets.

The oldest institution of social security is the family, including joint family. But modernisation resulted in socio-economic changes leading to the erosion of the joint family, thereby disturbing this institution of social security. Then the State stepped in to protect its citizens, and laws were enacted to provide minimal food and shelter to the poor. Safety Nets/Social Security programmes protect people against adverse outcomes such as chronic poverty. The purpose of all social security measures is to: give individuals and families the confidence that their standard of living will not decline by any eventuality; provide medical care and income security; protect against unemployment by maintenance; promote job creation; and provide benefits for the maintenance of children. But most of these programmes - be it in design, implementation or evaluation - have paid little attention to disabled people.

The social security strategies in India include social insurance, social assistance, national provident funds, and universal schemes for social security. Preventive schemes include preventive health care, vaccinations against diseases, etc. There are promotional social security schemes of the State and Central Governments such as food and nutritional security, education security, employment security, health security, women security, and assistance to the disabled. These are provided through programmes such as Food for Work, Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, Integrated Rural Development Project, Sakshara, Public Distribution System, etc.

The protective social security programmes to help reduce poverty in India have been as per contingencies defined by the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) which include old age pension, provident funds, medical insurance, widow/children/orphan and dependent pension, maternity benefits, compensation for loss of employment and work injury benefits. The benefits are extended only to the working population, a majority of whom are in the organised sector, through legislations like Employees State Insurance Act 1948, Workmen’s Compensation Act 1923, Employees Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1952, Payment of Gratuity Act 1972, and Maternity Benefits Act 1976.

The Social Security Acts guarantee income maintenance for support only to persons who might have become disabled due to work injury or some other mishap while in service. But, a majority of the disabled people in the country are unemployed, or are involved in informal sector or dependent on their families, and require social protection. In some of the development programmes, there are a few disabled beneficiaries. But the coverage is minimal considering the statutory provision of 3 per cent reservation for disabled people in all poverty alleviation schemes. There is an urgent need to address these problems and design a policy of social security for them.

According to conservative estimates, there are about 70 million disabled people in India. Governments down the years have been oblivious of even the number of disabled people and therefore have not shown any urgency to initiate programmes to address their critical needs. Economic independence is the most important single factor that can lead to equalisation of opportunity and meaningful existence with self-respect and dignity. Unfortunately, even after a decade of the passage of the Disability Act, the disabled population in India is far from realising this dream.

Though there are Constitutional safeguards and other specific legislations in place to address the needs of disabled people, there is a lack of initiative or proper planning in implementing them. Article 43 of the Indian Constitution speaks of State’s responsibility to provide social security to the citizens of this country. Article 14 (Seventh Schedule) guarantees that no person will be denied equality before the law. The State is directed to provide relief and help to the disabled and unemployable. Article 41 states that the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement.

The Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995 brought into sharp focus the State’s responsibility to empower the disabled with equal opportunities, protection of rights and equal participation in the development process of the nation. It clearly lays down that education and employment opportunities must be created for the disabled by providing 3 per cent reservation; stipulates the creation of barrier-free access to public places and public transport; has provision of preventive social security measures such as pre-natal and post-natal care for the mother and child; mentions social security provisions such as unemployment allowance and insurance; and supports the right of disabled people to lead independent lives.

Five Year Plans mention policies and programmes to look after the welfare interests of disabled people. The strategy (at least on paper) adopted in the Ninth Plan and carried forward in the Tenth Plan with regard to disabled people is their ‘empowerment’. In fact the Ninth Plan reaffirmed the earlier commitment of making as many disabled as possible active, self-reliant and productive contributors to the national economy through the enactment of the Disability Act.

The nodal ministry to implement the programmes is the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (M.S.J.E.). The ministry, while collating comments from the draft National Policy for Persons with Disability in 2005, stated that a policy and supporting structure of services to ensure that disabled people have equal opportunities for productive and gainful employment would be adopted. But nothing has happened so far. The very fact that disabled people are looked at as a ‘special group’ under the M.S.J.E. segregates them from the mainstream, and reiterates the charity view rather than a development perspective, wherein there is no scope for ‘empowerment’.

The Tenth Plan advocated the introduction of a Component Plan for the Disabled in the budget of all concerned ministries in order to ensure a regular flow of funds for schemes for the empowerment of disabled people. But the mid-term review document clearly shows that the M.S.J.E. has done nothing to implement this suggestion, which in itself is a sad commentary on the concerned ministry’s functioning. Besides, a mere 31 per cent of the agreed outlay for implementation of schemes under various policies in the Tenth Five Year Plan has been spent, which reflects poorly on the Government and shows its apathetic attitude toward the disabled.

The most effective strategy would be the mainstreaming of the existing social security programmes so as to include disabled people in these programmes. In order to design comprehensive promotional and preventive social security schemes for the disabled population, the first step would be to collect detailed data on them including aspects such as the disabled population, parents with disabled children below poverty line, qualified unemployed disabled persons who can be employed, severely disabled persons who require constant support, disabled people above 60, disabled women, disabled people working in the informal sector, etc.

Based on the international best practices, India should immediately formulate benefits and programmes such as old age pension scheme for the disabled, medical benefits, unemployment assistance, social assistance for disabled children, and other such programmes. Additional resources from state, national and international agencies also need to be mobilised. Resources available under various Ministries/Departments and schemes such as Rural Development, District Rural Development Agencies programmes, National Handicapped Finance & Development Corporation, international funding organisations, etc., need to be harnessed.

Another important condition is the effective implementation of the legislations including 3 per cent reservation in educational institutions and jobs. For disabled children to attend school, it is an important pre-condition to have accessible transport and buildings. Even today not a single bus is accessible, no blind persons can cross the road on their own, and other disabled people face a host of problems.

Again, if the 3 per cent reservation in jobs is implemented, a large number of disabled people will automatically fall under the social security schemes that are now extended only to the working population, particularly in the organised sector. There is an urgent need for the Government to spell out at the earliest an Incentive plan to encourage the private sector to employ disabled people in consonance with the provisions in the Disability Act.

All necessary legislations are in place. But political will power is the most important factor in the implementation of these legislations. The Central and State Governments have to first understand the dynamics of disability and then plan and design inclusive strategies for the disabled population of the country in order to enable them to enjoy the benefits of social security just like any other citizen of India.

And this is easier said than done! One can only hope for the best.

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