In a major victory for disability rights groups, the government of India has decided not to go ahead with the proposed amendments to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. The decision, announced late Wednesday evening, comes exactly one week after the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment sent a letter to seven NGOs proposing amendments to penal provisions.
“Keeping in view the overall sentiments of the majority of stakeholders, the government is now of the considered view that going ahead with the proposed amendment for compounding of offences may not be in the best interest of persons with disabilities”.
This statement, in inaccessible format, by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) on Wednesday evening followed a week of sustained protests by disability groups against the proposal to amend key provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016.
On 1 July 2020, the MSJE sent a proposal to seven NGOs proposing that penal provisions under Sections 89, 92 and 93 of the Act be amended. The move was slammed as sneaky, anti-disability and pro-corporate by disability rights groups across India who rallied together under the #SaveTheRPDA hashtag.
The outrage was fuelled by the fact that the Centre gave just 10 days’ time for feedback with no attempt to make this a public participatory process.
The intense pressure has clearly forced the Centre to back down. In a statement, the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) congratulated the disabled community for coming together to defeat the ‘conspiracies’ to amend the Act.
The government in response to the united opposition displayed by the disabled community has thought it prudent to reverse its decision and not go ahead and closed the consultation process.
Had the government gone ahead with the amendments it would have made the RPD Act toothless like the now repealed PW Act of 1995. The NPRD is sure that in the days ahead also the disabled community will stand as one in opposing all such retrograde measures. – Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
However, the government’s proposal to amend the Act only underlines the official apathy towards its implementation. Over three years after the RPWD Act was passed, many states are yet to notify the Act. There have been convictions for offences towards people with disabilities.
In a letter to the MSJE, Doctors with Disabilities, a pan-India body of health professionals pointed out the many gaps that still exist. “Since the implementation of the Act in April 2017, the Court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) remain without a permanent incumbent. The capital of India does not have a State Commissioner for Disabilities, and many states are yet to frame rules to implement the RPwD. States which have framed ruled lack special courts in districts to implement the Act”.
This is no doubt a high point for India’s disabled community, but as Chennai-based disability rights advocate Vaishnavi Jayakumar points out, it also highlights the need for greater vigilance. “Disabled India can relax after a week’s wasted time and energy, but the average Indian citizen needs to remain vigilant against ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ amendments. They may be disguised as pro-nation, but they will in actuality be pro-business at the cost of India’s environmental resources and its ordinary citizens”.