Volume 4 Issue 13 - July 01, 2006

Planning process for the Disabled – Commitment or Sham?

As the Planning Commission sets in motion the planning process for the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012), the disability sector has serious concerns regarding the very nature of this exercise. Chitra S. Shankar voices these concerns, which need to be looked into and rectified at the earliest in order to ensure the proper implementation of the plans and legislations for the welfare of disabled people in India.

In the context of preparation of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, the Planning Commission has already constituted a Steering Committee on the Social Welfare and Other Special Groups under the Chairmanship of Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, member in-charge of the sector.

A Working Group on Empowering the Disabled has also been set up under the Chairmanship of Dr. G. N. Karna. The Group includes representatives from various government departments and from the disability sector. But the very composition of this Working Group has raised eyebrows. Representatives from the disability sector include Dr. Uma Tuli, Saraswati Naraynaswamy, Dr. Bhushan Punani, Dr. Gautam Gawali, and Sanjay Deshmukh.

There are some serious concerns regarding the manner in which representation has been drawn from the disability sector. Not a single rights-based N.G.O. from the sector has been included. Moreover, distinguished disabled people and genuine disability representatives have been ignored.

Amongst people with visual disabilities, we have veterans like Padmashree Rajendra Vyas, Subhash A. Datrange, C. D. Tamboli, Dr. Ashwini Agarwal, J.L. Kaul, and many others. When there is such a rich mass, the choice of a non-disabled professional such as Bhushan Punani is certainly disappointing. The deaf movement, for that matter, has experienced people including Onkar Sharma, D.S. Chauhan, Jayashree Raveendran, and so on. This being the case, one wonders about the logic behind the choice of Saraswati Narayanaswamy, who runs a charity based N.G.O. and is obviously not deaf herself. Nor does she belong to the vibrant deaf movement.

In a nutshell, the very composition of the Working Group leaves much to be desired, and it only reflects the lack of thought process and seriousness on the part of the Planning Commission. Already, the nodal ministry in charge of implementing the programmes - the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) is failing on all fronts. Now the Planning Commission seems to be following suit. With the present constitution, one has serious doubts regarding the capacity of the Working Group, and ultimately, the output in the shape of the Chapter on Disability in the Eleventh Five Year Plan, which in turn will directly impact the lives of millions of disabled people.

Fearing the consequences of this thoughtless act as it would affect the entire planning process, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) wrote to the Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission. Unfortunately, there has been no reply till date.

Another important concern is that disability is not represented in a cross-sectoral manner, which Planning Commission itself had advocated in the Tenth Five Year Plan! For example, the Steering Committee on Communication & Information, Steering Committee on Agriculture & Allied Sectors, Steering Committee on Sports & Youth Affairs, Steering Committee on Arts & Culture, and most importantly on the Steering Committee on Secondary, Higher & Technical Education, etc. do not have any representation at all from the disability sector. As it is, the very serious issue of disability is being diluted under the larger umbrella of Social Welfare, where due to vote bank compulsions, the greater thrust is on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, etc. If Planning Commission genuinely believed that disability is a cross-cutting issue, then isnt it logical that it should have been represented in all the above mentioned Steering Committees?

A look at the Mid-Term Review Report of the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-2007) will further explain the apprehensiveness of the disability sector regarding the so-called Planning and Implementation, and how both, the Planning Commission and M.S.J.E. have totally failed the hopes and aspirations of millions of disabled Indians.

The total outlay for the disability sector under the Tenth Five Year Plan was Rs. 1465.40 crores. In the 2002-2005 period, a mere 456.65 crores accounting for only 31.16 per cent of the agreed outlay was spent.

While the Government spent its full share on distributing sub-standard aids and appliances, and in promoting supplicant N.G.O.s run by non disabled do-gooders, it totally neglected the funding of the National Institutes where some good research could have taken place. Out of an allocation of Rs. 210.80 crore, a meagre Rs. 30.21 crore (14.3 per cent) was spent.

It practically brought to a halt the functioning of National Handicapped Finance & Development Corporation (N.H.F.D.C.), where crores worth of loans could have been given to genuine and needy disabled people. While the agreed outlay was Rs. 97.50 crores, the expenditure is only 10.79 per cent! Worst of all, where legal literacy and legal aid could have been promoted for the better implementation of the Disability Act, a mere Rs. 15.92 crores has been spent against the total outlay of Rs. 154 crores!!

The Tenth Plan had advocated the introduction of a Component Plan for the Disabled in the budget of all concerned Ministries/Departments in order to ensure a regular flow of funds for schemes/programmes for the empowerment of disabled people. However, this was not done and the M.S.J.E., for reasons beyond comprehension, expressed its difficulty in implementing this suggestion! It never explained as to what that difficulty was, when crores and crores worth of resources were unutilised and of course, the Planning Commission also failed in taking corrective measures.

The Working Group for the Tenth Five Year Plan on Empowering the Disabled had a stalwart like Lal Advani as Chairman. There was a clear vision and direction for the Tenth Five Year Plan.

The strategy adopted in the Ninth and Tenth Plans with regard to disabled people was their empowerment and the overall objective of the Tenth Plan was to move towards an inclusive society providing Rehabilitation for All. Thus, the Working Group strongly recommended that each Ministry/Department should earmark 5 per cent of their budget for activities concerned with Disability, which could be achieved by strengthening existing programmes, as well as launching new and innovative ones, to ensure that by the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan period, the Government would be able to reach the remotest corners of the country. It also stated that the Tenth Plan must make a clear and categorical departure from the earlier approaches, which in reality have generally remained a charity and welfare approach.

The Working Group further stressed that the endeavour of the Tenth Plan should be of affirmative action to ensure education, vocational training, skill development and employment for disabled people as well as the development of human resources, in order to help them secure equal opportunities with non disabled people. It must usher in an era of accessibility physical, psychological, social and cultural, so that disabled people become active and productive partners in the process of development. Our built environment, both inside and outside, must incorporate barrier free features to make them easily accessible to persons with any disability.

Among other specific recommendations were that at least 5 per cent accommodation should be reserved in hostels for disabled people pursuing higher studies, getting vocational training etc. Accessible hostels should be set up in major urban centres for girls and women with disabilities so that they can pursue higher and professional education.

Most importantly, the Working Group had strongly recommended that the Planning Commission should set up a Disability Division to undertake the massive task of monitoring and evaluating the programmes developed by every Ministry/Department.

That all these recommendations have gone unheeded is clear from the poor performance of the Government in all areas of implementation of the Tenth Plan provisions as well as the Disability Act. This is also reflected in the Mid-Term Review Report. And yet, that the Planning Commission has shown poor judgment in constituting the crucial Working Group on Empowering the Disabled for the Eleventh Five Year Plan has come as a shock to the disability sector.

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