D.N.I.S. News Network - It is a hurry that may astonish even the most ardent believer of the Indian bureaucracy and certainly belies seriousness that framing of a national policy, that pertains to one of the most marginalised sections of India, deserves.
After an intense media campaign and outcry by Disabled Rights Group (D.R.G.) and others in the disability sector on the issue of lack of participation by persons with disabilities and Disabled Peoples’ Organisations, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (M.S.J.E.) held a daylong National Consultation on the Draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities. But the Consultation only highlighted the process of formulating of the Policy, which is a clear negation of the sacrosanct principle of the disability sector’s “nothing about us without us”.The proceeding of the day, conducted almost solely by Joint Secretary, M.S.J.E., Jayati Chandra revealed the gaping holes and inconsistency in the draft, which the Ministry itself is incapable of addressing. What it also highlighted in the process was that the Ministry’s reluctance to hold regional and a more elaborate (read more representative) might cost dearly for the country in general and persons with disabilities in general. Dr. Meenu Bhambhani representing D.RG. attended the meeting and expressed her objection to the top-down process of formulating the Draft which is a violation of the mandates of Biwako Millennium Framework.
This criticism, along with other specific policy issues, was raised strongly by the D.R.G. in a press conference held in July 2005. D.R.G. said the Draft did not state anywhere as to who were involved in preparation of this Policy and who all were involved in the consultation process.
Who were representatives of disabled people involved in the consultation and drafting process? When were these consultations held? Was there a representation of people with disabilities in the Consultative Committee?
The issue of why this Draft was just placed online and not circulated widely or even advertised through media was also raised.
The National Consultation was also a knee-jerk reaction to pressure built up by D.R.G. But the response by the Ministry is far short of being representative both in scope and spirit. On the sidelines of the Consultation meet, Chandra said she had to finish the consultation and drafting issues as her term as the M.S.J.E. Joint Secretary has come to an end.
Is this a reason enough to rush through a national policy? Are 60 suggestions by email and a hurriedly called gathering of representatives of NGOs with very few Disabled Peoples' Organisations enough to take stock of concerns and issues of disability sector?
Focusing on the Consultation itself, the proceedings saw a number of participants asking for a vision statement of how the Ministry and Government see the issue of disability. They called on the policy makers to mark a point of fundamental policy shift from welfare and clinical approach to the one based on rights.
Several objections were made on specific issues spelled out in the draft policy, ranging from missing out on including different types of disabilities to a clinically worded non-committal approach calling for “encouraging” and “highlighting benefits” for disabled people.
For instance, a section of participants drew attention to a major goof-up by the armchair formulators of the Draft Policy, by missing the issue of higher education in the section on education. Further, despite Minister for Human Resource Development tabling an Action Plan on Inclusive Education, the policy has just one mention of inclusive education.
Participants also noted that the section on employment has no vision for proactive measures envisaged for policies in private sector, and very tamely talks about “skill promotion and showcasing”.
To all these suggestions, Chandra reacted by constantly harping on the issues being one of formatting and draft. This again points to myopia and lack of initiative that inflicts the Ministry, which is not keen on taking sock of new rights, based approach that the disability sector is asking for.The participants reiterated that the policy formation process was a top-down approach whereas it should have been evolved from the grassroots level, particularly from organisations run by disabled people.
During the consultation meeting, Chandra also asked for all further observations and suggestions to sent to the Ministry in a weeks time, 30 September, and added that a revised Draft Policy would be placed on the website by late October.