WELFARE OF THE PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES (PWDs) IN ASSAM

Gayatri Singha Assistant Professor (HoD i/c), Department of Political Science, Mahatma Gandhi University, Meghalaya
gayatri singha

The concept of disability gradually shifted its paradigm from medical to social model because attitudes towards disability are deeply-rooted in socio-cultural values of the society. In a world in which there is increasing sensitivity to human rights and equality, one must view disability from a social perspective. The social model defines disability as "the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barriers."

In the last twenty years, a number of statutes relating to the disability sector have been enacted. The major laws dealing with disability are the Mental Health Act, 1987, The RCI Act, 1992, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, and the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999 which are obliged to organised, strengthen and extend comprehensive facilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes, particularly in the area of health, employment, education and social services. With the passing of these laws there are ampleness of provisions for protection, security, treatment, care, rehabilitation, and empowerment for persons with different disabilities. These laws also help effect a change in the way society looks at disability.

But unfortunately, these laws are not being implemented properly in North-East (NE) region with even the awareness remaining low, as the study reveals. Though The Directorate of Social Welfare and the State Commissioner for Disabilities have been set up in Assam, yet The Government of Assam has not created any state-specific legislation.

A pilot project by the Central Government has been implemented for creation of awareness on prevention and early detection and intervention of various types of disabilities. The pilot project has been taken up in 13 districts of Assam and is currently under implementation.

The first-ever baseline survey on disabled women, conducted by the Association of Women with Disabilities (AWWD) showed that a mere 5% of the disabled women in Assam are aware of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995 and that 14% of the women were aware of government schemes and policies related to women and the disabled.

The Assessment of Employment Needs of Persons with Disabilities, a study conducted by the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) was a study conducted in two districts of Assam. The study found that 83% of persons with disabilities are unemployed.

AIDS AND APPLIANCES:

The only scheme for aids and appliances in Assam is the ADIP scheme of the central government. There are no schemes introduced by the state government.

1) Assistance to Disabled Person Scheme (ADIP):

The main objective of this Scheme is to assist persons with disabilities in procuring durable, sophisticated and scientifically manufactured, modern, standard aids and appliances that can promote their physical, social and psychological rehabilitation, by reducing the effects of disabilities and enhancing their economic potential. Persons with disabilities who have a monthly income of up to Rs. 6500/- per month receive assistance from the full cost of the aid/appliance. Those having incomes ranging from Rs.6501/- to 10,000/- per month, receive assistance for 50% of the cost of aid/appliances. The scheme is implemented through implementing agencies such as the NGOs, National Institutes under this Ministry and ALIMCO (a PSU).

2) Scheme for Rehabilitation of Disabled Person (1990):

This scheme is made to provide special rehabilitation for a person with disability and mentally retarded. The delivery of services under the programme is bottom-up approach i.e Village-Block-District-State. There is a District Referral Centre manned by Indian Red Cross Society, Assam State Branch and the Centre deals with those cases referred from the villages and Blocks. Issue of aids and appliances like Hearing aids, Wheel Chair etc. is done by the Department through the Red Cross Society. These State Referral Centres deal with cases referred by District Rehabilitation Centre. This scheme is valid up to 30 July 2015.

3) Education Scheme for the disabled:

The government has provided education facilities for the disabled by generating awareness among the people and more specifically among parents and children with disabilities that they too have full rights to appropriate education without discrimination. The government has provided teaching/learning material, aids and appliances, hardware/software to the students with disabilities. Some of them are mention below:

  1. Scholarship/ stipend to students with Disabilities:
    Students with disabilities who are pursuing studies in the special institutions of the Department or institutions run by NGOs and also general schools and colleges, are offered stipend @Rs.200/- p.m. each.
  2. 3% seats are reserved for students with disabilities in the MBBS Course in Assam.
  3. The State Government awards scholarships to disabled persons from class I to class VIII.

4) Employment facilities for the disabled:

For the economic security of the disabled, the government has provided reservation and other facilities for them. A number of legislative measures have been implemented for the rehabilitation and empowerment of the disabled. They are as follows:

  1. Reservation in Government jobs:
    In Group "C" and "D" posts under the Government, reservations are provided in direct recruitment for physically handicapped persons as indicated below:
    There is no reservation under Group "A" and "B" identified by the Government of Assam.
    Category of Disability Percentage of Reservation:
    i) Visually handicapped 1%
    ii) Orthopedically handicapped 1%
    iii) Hearing handicapped 1%
  2. Unemployment Allowance:
    The following allowances are provided for unemployed persons with disabilities:
    i) Persons with disabilities who are registered in the employment exchange get unemployment allowance Rs.500/- p.m.
    ii) The Department of Social Welfare has introduced a scheme in 2009 to give unemployment allowances to families that have children with disabilities.
  3. Persons with Disabilities also get assistance for self employment.

5) Health and Rehabilitation:

  1. The Disability Prevention And Medical Rehabilitation Scheme (DPMR):
    This Scheme was implemented by the Government of Assam for:
    i) Procurement of foot wear, splint and appliances for needy patients.
    ii) Welfare allowances for patients from BPL families and reimbursement to Government hospitals will be considered. The Silchar Medical College& Hospital, Silchar and Gauhati Medical College & Hospital, Guwahati, are identified for the DPMR Scheme.
  2. Scheme for implementation of Persons with Disabilities ( Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 (SIPDA):

This is a central government scheme where central assistance is provided to State Governments, Institutions, Organisations, Autonomous Bodies and Universities for making barrier-free and accessible environment for PWDs, which inter-alia includes ramps, lifts tactile paths, adaptation of toilets for wheel chair users and Braille symbols and auditory signals. Assistance is also provided for making accessible to PWDs. Under this Scheme, the Assam State Government established the District Disability Rehabilitation Centres (DDRC) as an outreach activity for providing comprehensive services to the persons with disabilities at the grass-root level and for facilitating creation of the infrastructure and capacity building at the district level for awareness generation, rehabilitation and training of rehabilitation professionals.

6) Social Protection:

The social security pensions are disbursed for the disabled and other weaker sections of the society so that they can live with dignity in the society. Pensions are of great importance for those who are unable to earn a living for themselves or cannot do so due to societal factors.

  1. Disability Pension:
    Disabled people, male 65 years and female 60 years and above get Rs. 500 p.m. as disability pension. This pension not only provides them financial assistance but also enhance their social status.
  2. Other Concessions/facilities:
    i) 5% reservation is provided in allotment of fair price shops.
    ii) Reservation of 3% beneficiaries under the Integrated Rural Development Programme Scheme.
  3. The National Social Assistance Program( NSAP):

The Government of India introduced on Independence Day, 1995 the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) as a fully funded Centrally Sponsored Scheme targeting the destitute, defined as any person who has little or no regular means of subsistence from his/her own source of income or through financial support from family members or other sources, to be identified by the States and UTs, with the objective of providing a basic level of financial support.

NSAP covers approximately 2.6 crore people mainly elderly persons, widows and disabled people in India making it a highly significant step to ensure doorstep delivery of the pension. NSAP was expanded in 2009 to cover more vulnerable groups below poverty line (BPL) in February 2009, Government of India approved pension to persons suffering from severe multiple disabilities in the age group of 18-64 years. This scheme was named as Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS). For the purpose of define severe or multiple disabilities the following legal provisions are followed:-

i) As per section 56(4) of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, "persons with severe disability" means a person with 80% or more of one or more disabilities.

ii) As per Section 2(h) of the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, "Multiple Disabilities" means combination of 2 or more disabilities.

Under IGNDPS the eligible age for the pensioner is 18 years and above and the disability level has to be 80%. The amount is Rs. 300/- per month and after attaining the age of 80 years, the beneficiary will get Rs. 500/- per month. Dwarfs will also be an eligible category for this pension.

Rights of the PWDs in Assam: A comparative study

Discrepancy in census figures:

To begin with, even the census figures regarding the disabled population in the NE region are nowhere near the actual numbers as revealed by the C.B.R Network (N.G.O) figures. As per 2011 census revealed that there are 5, 30,300 of the 3, 11, 69, 272 populations consisted of persons with disabilities. However, C.B.R Network (NGO).claims that there is a disparity and the figure is 17, 79,968.

Mental Health Act, 1987:

Except for Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, all other States have state-level Mental Health Service. But there is a Central Government sponsored Mental Health Institution in Tezpur, Assam. Yet public awareness regarding the service was seen to be very low in most of the states as most respondents are ignored regarding the same.

The Rehabilitation Council Act (RCI), 1992:

A look at the status regarding the RCI Act, 1992 reveals that in Assam, the availability of trained manpower in disability rehabilitation field is inadequate.

The Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995:

For a start, there is no comprehensive policy on disability in majority of the NE States and no noteworthy steps have been taken to implement the Persons with Disabilities Act. Most of the NE States do not even have a full time Commissioner, and where there is one, the official is not active. There is a full time Commissioner only in Meghalaya and Nagaland. As for the 35 reservation, in Assam, jobs are yet to be identified by many departments for reservation for disabled people and restricted to C & D category. Nothing has been done to reserve A and B posts.

The National Trust Act, 1999:

In Assam, 9 Local Level Committees (LLC) have been notified, but most of them are inactive, and meetings are irregular. There is not much information regarding the meetings and their frequency. Very few sensitization and training programmes have been conducted in the entire NE region.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016:

The following Act of Parliament received the assent of the President on the 27th December, 2016. This Act replaces the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, protection of Rights and Full Participation) , Act, 1995. It fulfils the obligations to the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory.

Disability has been defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept. The types of disabilities have been increased from existing 7 to 12 and the Central Government will have the power to add more types of disabilities. The 21 disabilities are given below:

      Physical Disability
      a) Locomotor Disability
      • Leprocy cured person
      • Cerebral Palsy
      • Dwarfism
      • Muscular Dystrophy
      • Acid Attack victims
      b) Visual Impairment
      • Blindness
      • Low Vision
      c) Hearing impairment
      • Deaf
      • Hard of Hearing
      • Speech and Language Disability
      Intellectual Disability
      • Specific Learning Disabilities
      • Autism Spectrum Disorder
      Mental Behaviour ( Mental Illness)
      Disability caused due to-
      a) Chronic Neurological Conditions such as-
      • Multiple Sclerosis
      • Parkinson's Disease
      b) Blood Disorder
      • Haemophilia
      • Thalassemia
      • Sickle Cell Disease
      Multiple Disabilities

Persons with "bench mark disabilities" are defined as those certified to have at least 40 percent of the disabilities specified above.

Assam State Rules under Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 for implementation of RPWD Act is in the final draft stage.

A Critical Evaluation:

It is clear from the above discussion that much needs to be done in the area of implementation of the disability legislations and enactments. There is a great need for holding more trainings and rehabilitation programmes to meet the acute shortage of rehabilitation professionals in the State. Regarding legislations, some issues such as health, sexuality and reproductive health, family life and old-age in the context of disability need to be amended with the changing scenario. Moreover, many of the authorities themselves need to be sensitized about disability issues throughout the state and the nation at large.

The situation with regard to fulfilment and implementation of PWD Act is quite tedious and dismal in most NE states. The authorities have also failed to give full effect to the statutory mandate of identification and reservation of jobs for PWDs. There is no appropriate information on the status of the implementation of the 3% reservation in Government jobs provided under the PWD Act of 1995.

There is also an urgent need regarding social security of the disabled. Pension schemes should be made user-friendly by simplifying the procedures, promoting better awareness among the beneficiaries, ensuring regular payments by checking frequent delays in payments so that the pensioner getting their full entitlements in time.

The responsibility and the liability of implementation of the laws relations to disability rests largely on the government and its various entities at the Central and State level. There is a need for some checks and balances for proper implementations of these laws and to create mechanisms that assist clients to undertake the lengthy and complicated process of litigation. The success of any scheme depends largely on adequate awareness among those for whom it is intended. Therefore, there is an urgent need for legal literacy on the State on the issues relating to disabilities so that the people can fight for their rights. It is unfortunate as well as ironic that even the most literate person with disabilities does not know about the various provisions of the PWD Act. Therefore, it would be sufficient to say that a lot more legislations and implementations needs to be done in all the states of the region by way of awareness generation and actual ground work by the authorities, including the district and state level administrations of Assam and the entire NE, in order to bring about a positive change in the lives of the disabled people in the region and bring them to the mainstream population.

References:

http://socialjustice.nic.in/schemespro3.php
Ranjita Dawn, "Challenges in the Employment of Persons with Disabilities", (Economic and Political Weekly), September, 8, 2012 VOL XLVII NO. 36.
Ibid
ibid
http://socialjustice.nic.in/schemespro3.php
http://www.telegraphindia.com
http://www.assamtribune.com
www.socialjustice.in
www.assam.gov.in
http://socialwelfareassam.com/PDAct.asp
Ibid.
http://socialwelfareassam.com