Volume 4 Issue 1 - January 01, 2006

Poonam Natarajan appointed National Trust Chairperson

D.N.I.S. News Network - In a major victory for India’s disability sector, Poonam Natarajan, a 20-year veteran in the sector and head of Chennai-based Vidya Sagar, has been appointed as the Chairperson of National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities.

A picture of Poonam Natarajan

The news is being welcomed by one and all in the sector as it not only marks an end to a prolonged impasse that had delayed appointment of the Chairperson for a year, but also fulfillment of the principled demand of choosing a candidate who is a parent of a person with mental disability.

Reacting to the news, Natarajan said: “I am excited about taking on the new charge; it will be a new experience to work at such a macro-level. I have a vision for the National Trust, specifics of which will be spelled out very soon. I want to stress that the institution will see a massive expansion of the consultative process for formulation and functioning. I will take forward the work done by the incumbent Aloka Guha.” She took charge of her new assignment on 30 December 2005.

We also spoke to Aloka Guha, whose term had ended in April 2004 but she continued on the post with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) unable to make an appointment till now.

Guha said: “I am very happy that she has been selected for the post and there could not have been a better successor than Poonam Natarajan. She is sincere and hardworking. She will take the National Trust to the next level.”

“It has been a rewarding experience. First five years are difficult for any institution but we have managed to reach out to a large number of parents and people with disabilities,” she added.

The Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) and Parivaar had led the campaign for appointing a parent as the Chairperson of the National Trust.

Convenor of D.R.G. Javed Abidi said: “After a long gap, M.S.J.E. has taken a sensible decision. With General Ian Cardozo as the Chairperson of Rehabilitation Council of India and now Poonamdi as the Chairperson of National Trust, the score stands 2-1 as we usher in the New Year! I only wish that Meira Kumarji could have appointed a disabled person as the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities. Poonamdi is a wonderful person. We welcome her to Delhi and wish her a successful and path-breaking tenure ahead.”

President of Parivaar J. P. Gadkari welcomed the news: “This is a nice development and it is fulfillment of our demand for a parent to be appointed as the Chairperson. Poonam Natarajan has vast experience in the field of disability, particularly the issue of mental disabilities. We at Parivaar welcome this development.”

Vandana Bedi, a consultant on disability issues, said: “I am very happy, she is a parent and has years of experience working directly with children with mental and learning disabilities. She is the choice of disability sector and her experiences will be vital in framing schemes and programmes specifically focused on people with mental disabilities. Besides all this she is an open minded person and will surely involve lot many people.”

Asha Mehra, a parent of child with learning disability and head of Delhi-based Swavalamban, said: “This development means a lot to the disability sector and is nothing short of a victory. Poonam Natarajan has done tremendous work in the field and under her leadership the National Trust will do good work.”

Natarajan is a senior figure in the disability sector with over twenty years of experience. She undertook a course in Special Education from Spastics Society of India, Mumbai, in 1982, in order to teach her child who had Cerebral Palsy. Natarajan then founded Vidya Sagar in 1985, when she moved to Chennai and realised that there were no services available there for children with multiple disabilities. Vidya Sagar, which commenced operations in 1985 with only three children, now caters to over 2,000 children and young adults with cerebral palsy in a single year.

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