Volume 4 Issue 17 - September 01, 2006

What planning this, ladies and gentlemen??!!

The preparations for the XIth Five Year Plan are on. Steering Committees, Working Groups and Thematic Sub-Groups have been set up and in most Ministries the work is taking place in a reasonably serious manner, especially with the September deadline looming heavily on everyone’s mind. In contrast, the behaviour and the manner of functioning on the part of the Planning Commission as well as the Ministry of Social Justice, when it comes to the welfare and well-being of India’s 70 million disabled people, leaves a lot to be desired. Javed Abidi, Convenor, Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.), critically analyses the lack of planning and performance on the part of the powers that be.

  • Steering Committee on Social Welfare was constituted on 15th May. Working Group was constituted on 23rd May.
  • Both did not have adequate representation from the disability sector, especially of people with disabilities. Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) protested strongly on 5th June. Suggested more names for the Steering Committee, as well as for the Working Group.
  • Steering Committee was amended on 14th July. Earlier only four people were there: G. Shyamala, Maj. H.P.S. Ahluwalia, Dr. G.N. Karna and Aloka Guha. After D.R.G.’s intervention, four more names were added: A.S. Narayanan, Radhika Alkazi, George Abraham and Javed Abidi.
  • Working Group was amended on 26th July. Earlier only five people were there: Dr. G.N. Karna, Dr. Uma Tuli, Saraswati Narayanswami, Dr. Bhushan Punani and President, A.I.F.D. After D.R.G.’s intervention, at least 9 more names were added: Sanjiv Sachdeva, Prof. Vinod Sena, Dr. Mithu Alur, Dr. R.T. Agarwal, D.S. Chauhan, Prof. P.R. Ramanujam, Dr. Achal Bhagat, Dependra Manocha and S.C. Handa.
  • The Steering Committee has met only once so far – on 9th June, i.e. before it was amended and fresh names were added. The Minutes of this Meeting are still not available!
  • The Working Group has also met only once so far – on 28th June, i.e. before it was amended. The Minutes of this Meeting are also not available thus far!! And this Working Group is supposed to submit its Final report by September 2006 (no exact date mentioned)!!
  • Seven Sub – Groups were set up on 26th July. Once again, subject wise break-up of the Sub - Groups is quite whopped. And the representation of the disability sector is also quite poor. To top it, the Sub – Groups are supposed to submit their reports by 7 September and none of the seven have met even once thus far!!
  • The Sub – Group on ‘Health and Rehabilitation Policy’ has no recognisable name from the disability sector except one Saraswati Narayanswami.
  • The Sub – Group on ‘Education, Research and Human Resource Development’ has just about no one from the disability sector! Other than Government officials, the other names you get to see are one Dr. Ashum Gupta, Head, Department of Psychology, Delhi University; one Dr. Anupam Ahuja of N.C.E.R.T. and one Sanjay Deshpande of Centre for Russian Studies, Vidyanagari.

This Sub – group is headed by some Dr. G. Lokanadha Reddy, Head, Department of Education of Periyar University.

Why were people/ stalwarts like Mithu Alur, Shanti Auluck, Radhika Alkazi, George Abraham, Madhumita Puri, Varsha Hooja, Renu Singh and so many more (who have been working for years and years on special education/ integrated education/inclusive education) not considered?

  • The Sub – Group on ‘Employment, Training and Livelihood’ again has no representation from the disability sector at all. Other than all Government officials, the only recognisable name is that of Surinder Saini of the All India Federation of the Deaf (A.I.F.D.).
  • The Sub - Group on ‘Barrier – Free Environment and Social Awareness’ has the names of Sanjiv Sachdeva and Prof. Vinod Sena. But that’s it.
  • The Sub – Group on ‘Scientific and Technological Developments’ again has no one except Prof. S.C. Handa and Dependra Manocha of N.A.B.
  • And then there are two more Sub – Groups, the relevance of which is beyond our understanding, from the Planning Commission/ XIth Five Year Plan point of view. One is entitled ‘Review of Government Schemes and Programmes (including Social Security)’. And the other is entitled ‘Review of Disability Legislations’.

We find the names of Dr. Mithu Alur, D.S. Chauhan, Dr. R.T. Agarwal, Dr. Bhushan Punani, P.R. Ramanujam, Dr. Achal Bhagat and Dr. Uma Tuli listed here, under these two Sub – Committees. A sheer waste of their talent. Or, to put it a little more mildly, an inappropriate use of their talent. Should they not have been in the main thematic Sub – Groups on such issues as Rehabilitation, Education, Employment, Access, etc.??

We have therefore decided that:

1) We need to put an end to this sham immediately.
2) We must write a strong letter of protest to G.B. Panda, the so-called Advisor (Social Justice) in the Planning Commission.

It was on his advise that someone as incompetent as Dr. G.N. Karna was appointed as the Chairman of the Working Group; and on whose instance the lop-sided Steering Committee and Working Group were appointed in May and thus precious time was lost.

Please bear in mind that had it not been for D.R.G., (a) the lop – sided constitution of the Steering Committee and the Working Group would not even have been detected; and (b) no voice of protest would have been raised and thus the entire ‘Planning’ for the XIth Five Year Plan would have got compromised right in the initial stages itself.

3) We must write a strong letter of protest to 1) Sonia Gandhi; 2) Dr. Manmohan Singh; and 3) Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia to bring to their urgent attention this entire matter.

We must tell them about the manner in which the disability sector has been taken for granted and worst still, the manner in which the future of India’s 70 million disabled citizens is being compromised.

All these 3 people are genuinely pro-disabled. They must hold not just G.B. Panda accountable but somewhere his boss, Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar – the sleepy eyed Member of the Planning Commission - also has to be taken to task. Where exactly is he in all of this?

When the Steering Committee was ill-constituted in May and especially when someone as inept as Dr. G.N. Karna was appointed as the Chairman of the Working Group on Empowering the Disabled, we had protested. And we did not even mince words. Since Dr. Mungekar would not meet us, we met another Member of the Planning Commission, B.N. Yugandhar. We are given to understand that Yugandhar personally took up the matter with both, Dr. Mungekar and Panda but both did not relent and insisted on continuing with Dr. Karna as the Working Group Chairman. So, if we have got a disaster on hand, both obviously have to be held accountable.

4) We must demand that Dr. G.N. Karna be immediately sacked as the Chairman of the Working Group on Empowering the Disabled.

If you have still not been convinced about this demand on our part, may we remind you that (a) the Working Group was first constituted on 23rd May and it did not even have its first meeting till 28th June. When you are working on such a tight deadline (report to be submitted by September), why would you waste more than a month to even convene the first meeting?; (b) Sub – Groups were not set up till 26th July. Why this delay? Why were two precious months wasted, just to merely constitute 7 thematic Sub - Groups??; (c) thematic areas chosen badly; (d) choice of the people nominated not upto the mark; (d) no meeting of any of the Sub - Groups takes place until 28th August (the date this Note is being written out); (e) total absence of leadership and accountability – what can we now expect from these Sub – Groups, especially keeping in mind the fact that the deadline for them to submit their reports was/is 7th September!!

5) We must demand that the entire Working Group and all the seven Sub – Groups be properly reviewed and reconstituted.

This should be done in consultation with such national level disability organisations as D.R.G., N.C.P.E.D.P., A.A.D.I. (cross – disability); N.A.B., A.I.C.B., N.F.B. (Blind); N.A.D., D.A.D., A.I.F.D. (Deaf); and so on. It should not be too difficult for the Planning Commission to call for a national – level Consultation. On our part, we in the disability sector should then focus not so much on the blunders caused by the Planning Commission but on the way forward.

6) We must demand for an extension of the ‘September’ deadline.

Heavens hopefully would not fall if the process was extended to say October or even November. Since it is they who goofed up, the mandarins at the Planning Commission owe it to the disabled population of this Nation and to the disability sector at large that their rightful aspirations are not compromised. At least not in as blatant a manner as this!

7) And till these demands are not met, we must protest and protest and protest.

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