Volume 3 Issue 15 - August 01, 2005
Disablility Sector flays Draft National Policy for flouting international conventions
It took ten years after the promulgation of The Disability Act 1995, for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to formulate the draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities. However, the gaping loopholes in the National Policy and the slipshod manner in which it was brought out has shocked and disappointed the entire disability sector. National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) had analysed the so-called draft Policy and found it to be a watered down version of existing legislation. Further the Policy document is in complete violation of Biwako Millennium Framework, which mandates that any policy affecting people with disabilities in Asia and the Pacific Region should be drafted in consultation with the key stakeholders. It is enmeshed in charity and welfare mode and provides little voice to people with disabilities for whom the policy is framed. The whole process upset the disability sector so much that N.C.P.E.D.P. had even organised a Press Conference, also inviting other leaders in the sector, to highlight the issue in the media.
When compared to the National Policy of South Africa, which is still a fledgling democracy, this draft National Policy with major omissions leaves much to be desired. The omissions display a lack of conceptual clarity as key issues like accountability, denial of participation, representation to people with disabilities, lack of mandate for convergence are not addressed in this document.
What is worse is that the Ministry gave only 15 days to people to register their complaints and suggestions and after protests by a few concerned people extended it by another 15 days. The draft was put up on the website of the Ministry in a hush-hush manner. No dissemination or publicity was given to the draft policy.
If we compare it with the draft Delhi Master Plan which is being formulated by the Delhi Government, 90 days were given to the public inviting suggestions, recommendations and objections. Wide media publicity was given to it, including advertisements in the national and regional newspapers.
Is it possible that a National Policy can be drafted and consultations, if any, be held in a month’s time when key stakeholders are not even aware of the existence of such a document?
The draft Policy does not state anywhere as to who were involved in its preparation and who all were part of the consultation process. This is in clear violation of the Biwako Millennium Framework (B.M.F.) for Action towards an Inclusive, Barrier-Free and Rights Based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific Region. This framework, to which our country is also a signatory, clearly states that, “To pursue the targets and strategies, consultations with and involvement of civil society, inter alia, self-help organisations and concerned N.G.Os are essential”. The Ministry has not disclosed any list of Civil Society and Disability Organisations that have been consulted. This is, in itself, a violation of rights-based approach mandated by B.M.F. Throughout this draft Policy, no mention has been made of mechanisms to implement it. There is no Plan of Action and no time frame within which this would be accomplished.
At places, the document is extremely vague.
Throughout this Draft Policy, no mention has been made of mechanisms to implement it. There is no Plan of Action and no time frame within which this would be accomplished. Though the Policy talks of budgetary allocations it does not give any percentage that will be allocated by various Ministries and Departments. It states that Chief Commissioner and State Commissioners will play a key role in implementing the National Policy - a repetition of the Disability Act. Majority of the States do not even have full time Commissioners. Learning from the experience, firmer systems for monitoring and implementation should be planned. Monitoring beyond State level, i.e, at the District level has not been thought of. Qualifications of the Chief Commissioner and State Commissioner have to be specified.
Although the key policy areas have been identified which include prevention, health care, rehabilitation, barrier-free access, transport, communications, data collection and research, education, employment, human resource development, social welfare, social security, and sport and recreation, no strategies and mechanisms for each of these areas have been developed. Again, despite identification of different components like women with disabilities and people with severe and profound disabilities, there are groups and components that have been left out such as youth with disabilities, disabled people suffering from H.I.V.-A.I.D.S., people disabled by violence and A.I.D.S. If the Policy aims to be specific then it has to focus on all vulnerable groups.
Again, there is no representation of people with disabilities in the implementation of this Policy. The South African Policy is based on the basic principle which informs the outlook of the disability rights movement in South Africa and internationally and that is: “Right to self-representation. This means that the collective determination of disabled people must be used to inform the strategies of the government. In recognising this principle, the government acknowledges the advisory role of organisations of persons with disabilities and their representatives in the decision-making processes.”
If the various arms of Government fail to acknowledge and implement the various provisions of this Policy, there is no monitoring mechanism. It fails to spell out as to what actions can be taken against defaulters. At most places the word “encouraged” has been used. This clearly reflects that this policy will not be binding and that every allocation would be voluntary. For example, it states that N.S.S.O. will collect information every five years while Census will be encouraged to collect information on disabilities in every census and not ensure that it will be done.
That the Policy is still looking at disability from a medical perspective and not from a rights-based approach is obvious from the section on Research. It states that, “Indian Council of Medical Research will be the nodal agency for research and development in the field of disability prevention.” It fails to recognise the importance of social science and humanities research conducted in Universities and other Centres of Academic Excellence.
There is no strategy as to how awareness will be generated to change attitudes and perceptions towards people with disabilities. One of the key elements of the strategy to create awareness is Self-Representation. As stated in South African Policy, “ People with disabilities are best equipped to change perceptions and attitudes towards disability, and should therefore play a central role in the development of strategies and projects through their legitimate organisations. The appointment of a disabled representative at key positions is the first step.
Looking at the Employment section of the draft Policy, one finds that it is more or less a replica of the provisions in The Disability Act. It reiterates that it will “ensure reservation in accordance with the provisions of P.W.D. Act 1995” and that too “in identified posts in government sector, including public sector undertakings” [(Section 59 (i)]. It also fails to talk about inter-sectoral collaboration in generating jobs. Employment of mentally disabled has not been addressed. Disability should be one of the indicators of measuring poverty. How poverty and disability are to be addressed, is again inadequately covered.
Different disability groups have different public transport needs. There are also differences in the needs of people living in rural, urban and hilly areas. But the Policy fails to identify clear-cut processes to develop accessible commuter systems with involvement or participation by all stakeholders
The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities is a crucial document for the disability sector, especially, in view of the fact that this was a long awaited initiative from the Government’s side. Any major policy of this kind needs to be developed after a series of consultations with the Disability Groups, Non-Government Sector and other Civil Society Organisations working in the area of disability. In other sectors it is often seen that the Government in the concerned department engages the various stakeholders in a very constructive manner to arrive at a consensus. However, in the present case, the entire process of policy formulation has probably been restricted to the realms of the Government machinery.
Ideally, a public debate should have been initiated in the media, so that reactions of a varied cross section of the society are available, which is a very valuable input for evolving a public policy. Workshops, Seminars should have been held with stakeholders to incorporate feedback. How does one expect the majority of the people to understand the draft National Policy? Further, if the Disability Sector could wait for 10 years for this policy, it could have surely waited for a few weeks more!
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