Mr Jaitley, Budget 2018 Has Made Me Realise Your Govt Doesn’t Care About 26 Million Disabled People
The total allocation for the department of empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has seen a meagre increase of 215 crores. It is disappointing considering the number of disabilities recognised under the new act has gone up from seven to 21.
Image for representation only (Reuters)
When the founding fathers of the US met at the Philadelphia convention to author the constitution that came into effect in 1789, they knew they were up to something big. After all, it was the first permanent constitution of its kind, adopted by representatives elected ‘by the people’. However, the US constitution did not go on to define who would vote. The decision was left to the States. In the early history of the country, most states allowed only white property owning males to vote. It was as late as 1971 that the 26th amendment to the US constitution cleared any ambiguity by reading "Who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age." The Budget 2018 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley puts Persons with Disabilities in a similar situation.
The much spoken about National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) that aims to cover 10 crore poor and vulnerable families (which means 50 crore beneficiaries) with a coverage of Rs 5 lakh per family per year will be a game changer for many. However, what makes ‘ModiCare’ (NHPS) different from ObamaCare is that the latter’s legislation specifically included pre-existing conditions. What this implied was that insurance companies can’t refuse to cover treatment for a person’s pre-existing conditions and disabilities. I do hope the Finance Ministry clarifies this and includes pre-existing conditions in the NHPS before it’s too late.
It was only last year that the government passed the new Mental Health Care Act. However, despite spending a lot of time on health care, the FM didn’t touch Mental Health even once.
In fact, in Mr Jaitley’s Budget speech that lasted close to two hours, the ‘divyaang’ (government’s preferred terminology for Persons with Disabilities) were mentioned exactly once alongside the elderly, widows and orphaned children while introducing the National Social Assistance Programme. I kept waiting to hear the specifics but his speech ended before I got my answers.
Last year, the token mention of PwDs was actually for a specific plan—one to make 500 railway stations accessible, which itself was bizarre considering trains themselves aren’t accessible. A realistic goal of making stations in major metro cities along with an accessible train connecting them might have been more sensible. After all, you don’t expect the disabled to picnic at an accessible station without accessible trains.
Nevertheless, I was keen to hear an update on the railway stations. Instead, I was filled with angst when the Finance Minister mentioned escalators (and not lifts which can be used by the disabled) would be installed in the 600 stations having a footfall of 25,000 and above. Sure, it’s common sense to invest in accessible solutions going forward.
The FM spoke about building 20 new Schools of Planning & Architecture on ‘challenge mode’. India still doesn’t have a single institution that teaches accessibility and Universal Design.
The total allocation for the department of empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has seen a meagre increase of 215 crores. It is disappointing considering the number of disabilities recognised under the new act has gone up from seven to 21. Disappointment doesn’t end there. The allocation towards Schemes for the Implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act (SIPDA) is Rs 300 Crore. These schemes include the ‘Accessible India Campaign’ that started in December 2015 with the objective to make 50 public buildings in 50 cities accessible. Besides, the government had also committed to make government websites accessible.
Target dates have changed, goal posts have been shifted but the campaign is yet to see the success one would have hoped for. Another bold scheme launched by the government last year was the ‘Inclusive India Campaign’ promoting Inclusive Education, Inclusive Employment and Inclusive Community Life for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities.
A three-fold increase in the legally recognised disabilities, two national level campaigns – one would have expected a larger allocation of funds towards the use of the community by the government.
TV pundits hailed the budget as being very ‘inclusive’. Farmers have been supported through Minimum Support Prices (MSP) amongst other benefits, the Swacch Bharat Mission is in full swing with a commitment to build two crore more toilets, allocations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have almost doubled and the Economic Survey that preceded the Budget was actually pink in its “bid to further the cause of women’s empowerment”. Perhaps to some it was.
Through this Budget, I learnt that the government is moving towards 5G, its fascination with blockchain, Internet Of Things and Artificial Intelligence. I learnt that Fastags that will replace cash at tolls and that investing in cryptocurrency is illegal. My most important realisation was that the government doesn’t care about 26 million Persons with Disabilities.
Nipun Malhotra is CEO, Nipman Foundation and Founder, Wheels For Life (www.wheelsforlife.in). He can be followed on twitter @nipunmalhotra
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