Protect the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (Common Petition)

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The Government of India proposed an amendment to The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, as the effect of the amendment will lead to watering down the penalties or even removing some of them altogether. For the general public, the disability legislation in the country started with The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, and Full Participation) Act 1995 (PWD Act, 1995) which was enacted by the Government for socio-economic welfare of the Persons with Disabilities. The Act dealt with human domains of rehabilitation like providing free education, employment, and reservation for the disabled.

While creating a right-based approach to disability the Act was still considered to be deficient in many areas which were highlighted by the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) (which was signed and ratified by the Parliament of India in 2007).The approach taken by the UNCRPD was solely right based as it looked at the holistic development and participation of disabled persons in social, political, and economic engagement. In the light of the UNCRPD, the PWD Act, 1995 was considered so deficient that it only deemed proper to bring a new Act rather than trying to amend it.

During the process of drafting the new Act, one of the major concerns was the non-implementation of the provision of the 1995 Act and its restrictive nature in leaving out a large number of PWD because their condition did not form a part of the enumerated disability. Therefore, the 2016 Act was specifically targeted towards rectifying these among other lacunas. The new act increased the number of disability categories from 7 to 21 and penal provisions were introduced for non-implementation.

For these reasons in the 2016 Act, penalties were introduced for non-implementation of the provisions of the Act such as reservation in employment and educational institutions. Following the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act, the 2016 Act imposed a criminal consequence for insulting or humiliating a disabled person in public. The Act also provides that any institution or authority must produce all documents which go into the decision-making process leading to the discharge of their statutory obligation, if any person or authority does not produce documents/records related to any aspect of disability which they are required to do, the failure carries a fine. These provisions were mainly introduced because the implementation of the 1995 Act, particularly with regards to access to employment and education was extremely poor.

The government is proposing an amendment that will waterdown the penal provision to the extent that they will virtually be done away with. As per the amendment, a person with disabilities will have the power to compound any violation and as a result of this compounding, the violator can be discharged. The only safeguard provided is that the compounding must be done with the consent of the disabled person. But the concern here is that given the marginalized nature of this community, one’s consent would not be an adequate safeguard because it could be obtained by bullying or could merely arise out of lack of understanding and information.

So please sign this petition as the proposed amendment would strike at the very foundation of the RPWD Act, 2016 while reducing the accountability of the Government and other authorities to non-existence and shall not put any value to it. If this amendment is incorporated in the Act, the Act will become fruitless and fail to provide the relief needed. In conclusion, let us remember that since the RPWD Act, 2016 came into force almost no punishment has actually been handed out under these provisions. Despite the supposed fear of penalties, implementation still remains extremely poor. So, imagine what will be the result if the fear of consequences is reduced to ineffectiveness.

Please Note: This petition is entirely a people-led effort. It is a collective effort of various organizations, members of civil society, the disability community, and people at large. 

Senior Advocate Ms. Roma Bhagat has lent her legal expertise to support the cause and this petition has been drafted by her on behalf of the people at large. This petition is being technically supported by EVARA.

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