Who is a person with disability? In India, a board of medical professionals decides whether you are a person with disability or not. They also decide if your disability is 40 percent and above so that you can be issued what is called a ‘Disability Certificate’. Only if you have this certificate, you are entitled to the benefits that the State provides for people with disabilities. Very few people in the country have a disability certificate and many a times when one uses that certificate to avail entitlements, the certificate is ‘reviewed’, which means a separate set of doctors will once again check whether that certificate is accurate or not! Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. writes on why the system needs to change and fast, especially after India having ratified C.R.P.D.
Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T.), Delhi has recently denied admission to a student under the disability category stating that the medical board constituted by I.I.T. found the disability of the candidate to be only 23 percent, much below the lower limit of 40 percent as mandated by the Disability Act of 1995. The candidate had a certificate from the Darbhanga Medical College, Bihar saying he had 40 percent disability. The case is now before the Delhi High Court.
The incident has, once again, put the focus on the process of certification and the inconsistencies that prevail in the country. Now, with India having ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (C.R.P.D.), the question that the Nation faces is how to ensure that the process of certification is made simpler and foolproof so that a person with disability does not have to face numerous certification processes to avail entitlements from reservation in educational institutions, to jobs in the public sector to concessions. Also, post C.R.P.D., can India continue to have a medical model of certification with no regard to environmental and social barriers?
Disability certificate is to a person with disability what the much talked about Unique Identification Number is to all Indian residents. It is a disabled person’s identity. Given the huge importance this certificate has on the lives of people with disabilities, one would assume that each and everyone of the 70 – 100 odd million disabled people in India would have this certificate. Brace yourselves, only 39.13 percent of people with disabilities have a disability certificate! Here’s another gem, while disability comes under the purview of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, certifying disability comes under the Ministry of Health.
In this country, one can get a document as sacred as a passport in less than a week, but to get a disability certificate, the wait could be anywhere from six months to a year, or even more. Under the existing system across India, a person with disability has to apply to the District Government Hospital. For people in villages, this could mean travelling several kilometres to the district headquarters. The Government Hospital will then convene the meeting of a medical board which will examine the applicant to verify whether the person has a disability or not, and if yes, to what extent. The board sets a date for the applicant to appear before them. More often than not, the applicant has to travel several kilometres and appear several times, before he gets to meet the full board and thus, get her/his disability certificate.
The 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012) mandated that the procedure to issue a disability certificate should be made simpler. In 2008-09, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) formed a Core Group on Health with renowned experts on the issue, which made recommendations to the Ministry of Health on making the procedure simpler. This advocacy led to the Ministry of Health amending the guidelines. They authorised doctors at the primary and community level to certify visible disabilities. For multiple disabilities and mental disabilities, one still has to go to the board at the district level. Most importantly, the new guidelines mandate that the onus is now on the certifying body to issue the disability certificate within 2 weeks of any disabled person making an application.
However, even after 3 years of this amendment, only Gujarat, Bihar, Goa and Tamil Nadu have notified the new rules. A newspaper report recently stated that the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (A.I.I.M.S.) and Safdurjung Hospital in New Delhi; Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (P.G.I.), Chandigarh and the Jawaharlal Institute of Post Medical Education and Research (J.I.P.M.E.R.), Puducherry, all top medical institutes of the country have not had a single specialist certification in the last 3 years!
Of the many problems that plague the disability certification process, the foremost is the unbelievably long time it takes to get one and second is the rampant abuse. The latter has resulted in most reputed institutions like the I.I.T.s, Indian Institutes of Management (I.I.M.s), Union Public Service Commission (U.P.S.C.), A.I.I.M.S., J.I.P.M.E.R., Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.) and so many others to have their own boards and mechanisms to double check the disability certificates furnished by candidates.
This is a clear indication that even Government run institutions view the disability certificates issued by Government’s very own hospitals with suspicion! This in itself is a huge testimony to the fact that the system is badly in need of an overhaul.
What is unfair is that this kind of abuse is not limited to disability certificates alone. Even caste certificates are often misused to avail entitlements. Given such a scenario, it is not only unfair but also discriminating towards people with disabilities to be subjected to multiple scrutinies. More so, because people with disabilities have been neglected by the policy makers for as long as 50 years after independence. The onus is clearly on the Government to make the system efficient and to stop abuse. But while the Government continues to look the other way, millions of people with disabilities are caught in the middle of having to prove time and again that they are disabled and indeed disabled enough to avail entitlements!
Along with the massive overhaul of the system, another question that the Nation needs to answer is how to make the system compliant to C.R.P.D. The definition of disability should no longer be based on a medical model. Disability today is seen as an interaction between the impairment of a person with environmental and social barriers. Since India has ratified C.R.P.D., it will have to face this question and take a position, sooner or later.
A lot of these questions could have been answered had the proposed new disability law seen the light of the day. Given the fact that the Committee formed to draft a new disability legislation messed up and badly so, it is now left to the disability movement to take this issue up on a mission mode. The discourse on the definition of disability and a C.R.P.D. compliant certification system for entitlements is now long overdue. We cannot afford to turn away from it any more.