New Delhi: India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) that focuses on the empowerment of Persons with Disabilities since 2007. This means that in order to comply with the UNCRPD, the country needs to remove barriers that hinder persons with disabilities from actively participating in the society. This, according to experts, includes not only raising awareness and busting stigma and discrimination but also allocating adequate public funds to realise their rights, that is to have an inclusive government budget. According to experts, an inclusive budget entails that the government’s revenue generation (from tax and non-tax sources) and expenditures involve and benefit all people in their diversity. It includes persons with disabilities among others and pays attention to the impact of the policies and programmes on them.
However, the experts have pointed out that even though the COVID -19 pandemic has come down heavily on persons with disabilities, adding to the barriers faced by them, the budget for them has mostly remained stagnant in over the past three years. In fact, allocations for persons with disabilities as a ratio to GDP (Gross Domestic Product) show a declining trend.
Allocations And Announcements For Persons With Disabilities In Budget 2022-23
Total allocations specific to persons with disabilities for the year 2022-23 is Rs. 2,172 crore which is approximately 0.0084 per cent of the GDP. As a percentage of GDP, it has declined from 0.0093 per cent in 2021-22. While in 2020-21, the allocation as a per cent of GDP was 0.0097 per cent with Rs. 2,180 crore as the total amount earmarked for PwDs.
According to the analysis of the Union budget done by the Centre for Budget, Governance and Accountability (CBGA), the allocations specific to persons with disabilities are provided majorly under three departments-
– Rs. 1,212 crore allocated to the Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment which includes a host of schemes and programmes for PwDs
– Rs. 670 crore from the Department of Health and Family Welfare under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare which includes National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health and National Mental Health Programme
– Rs. 290 crore from the Department of Rural Development under the Ministry of Rural Development for Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme
The Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) is the nodal agency responsible for overseeing the welfare of the PwDs, the implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. It covers the assistance and rehabilitation needs of all the identified disabilities under the Act:
• Leprosy Cured persons
• Hearing Impairment
• Locomotor Disability
• Intellectual Disability
• Mental Illness
• Autism Spectrum Disorder
• Cerebral Palsy
• Muscular Dystrophy
• Chronic Neurological conditions
• Specific Learning Disabilities
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Speech and Language disability
• Sickle Cell disease
• Multiple Disabilities including (deaf-blindness, Acid Attack victim, Parkinson’s disease)
DEPwD is also the nodal department for the implementation of the UNCRPD in India. The budget allocated for the National Program for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities, the largest programme implemented by DEPwD that includes Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase/Fitting of Aids and Appliances, Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme, Support of National Trust, Indian Spinal Injury Centre and Scheme for implementation of Persons with Disability Act is Rs. 635 crore in 2022-23. This is an increment of almost Rs. 172.69 crore as compared to the Revised Estimate of the allocation in 2021-22 which was Rs. 462.31 crore.
Autonomous bodies such as the National University of Rehabilitation Science Disability Studies, Rehabilitation Council of India and Indian Sign Language, Research and Training Centre, Centre for Disability Sports, National Institute for inclusive and Universal Design, National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation and Support to National institutes, have been allocated Rs. 431 crore for the financial year 2022-23. This allocation has increased by Rs. 53 crore from the Revised Estimate of Rs. 378 in 2021-22.
However, there has been a drastic reduction in allocation to the Public Sector Undertakings that includes Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) and the National Handicapped Finance and Development. The budget for ALIMCO has been reduced from Rs. 60 crore in the Revised Estimate of 2021-22 a mere Rs. 0.10 crore in the Budget Estimate of 2022-23. ALIMCO manufactures and supplies aids and appliances that the government distributes through various schemes and programmes. The allocation to the National Handicapped Finance and Development has increased from nil in the RE of 2021-22 to 1 lakh in BE 2022-23.
Scholarships for students with disabilities have also seen a reduction of about Rs. 5 crore. It was Rs. 110 in the Revised Estimate of 2021-22 which has been decreased to Rs. 105 crore in the budget for 2022-23.
There was only one specific announcement in Union Budget 2022-23 Speech pertaining to PwDs which was to amend 80DD of the Income Tax Act. This allows parents/guardians of persons with a disability an exemption from income tax for insurance policy (term life insurance) that provides a lump sum amount or in annuity (paid every year) even during their lifetime to their children with disability. Earlier, Section 80DD of the Income Tax Act, provided for a tax deduction to the parent or guardian only if the lump-sum payment or annuity is available to the person with disabilities on the death of the subscriber (parent or guardian).
According to Meenakshi Balasubramanian, founder, Equals – Center for Promotion of Social Justice, a Chennai-based organisation that works for the rights of persons with disabilities, this is a positive announcement because there could be situations where differently-abled dependants may need payment of annuity or lump sum amount even during the lifetime of their parents/guardians for medical or any other requirements.
Lack Of Data Related To Persons With Disabilities
While commenting on the budget for persons with disabilities, Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of Disabled (NPRD) said that added to the barriers faced by the persons with disabilities is the absence of disaggregated data, which results in their plight being invisible. He highlighted that there is a lack of official data on the informal livelihoods taken up by the persons with disabilities, poverty among them, inadequate housing and shelter, water and sanitation services, and health and environmental challenges faced by them. He asserted,
A lot persons with disability are living in slums but they are hardly visible in the urban spaces. It is because there is no accessibility. There are no ramps in slums, the shanties, community toilets, common areas, no place is disabled-friendly. The government needs to conduct survey and gather proper data on various aspects related to the persons with disabilities.
Mr Vishwanath further added that in order to comply with the UNCRPD, every department of every ministry needs to dedicate funds for the persons with disabilities, be it the education department or the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs or the Ministry of Jal Shakti and must clearly specify IT in the budget document. Currently, only three departments are specifying the amount allocated for PwDs- the Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), the Department of Health and Family Welfare (DoHFW) and the Rural Development Department.
Because of the absence of the data on persons with disabilities and disaggregated data on allocations across various ministries for disability a clearer picture does not emerge. What becomes abundantly clear though is that the disabled continue to be miserably neglected and excluded, says Mr Vishwanath.
There Are Gaps In Implementation Of Programmes And Disbursement Of Benefits: Experts
According to Nipun Malhotra, co-founder and CEO of Nipman Foundation and founder, Wheels For Life, the budget allocated for persons with disabilities is too little and covers only a fraction of the population. He asserted that most of the schemes and programmes for persons with disabilities that are based on cash transfers and identify only those as the targeted beneficiaries who are below the poverty line. This excludes a large proportion of the population from the system considering the lack of job opportunities and poverty among the disabled communities. This is extremely problematic because all the persons with disabilities have to incur higher costs of living as compared to any other person with the same economic background, he said, adding that the standard of living of the families with persons with disabilities will always be lower than others.
Ms Balasubramanian highlighted that to ascertain the kind of scheme or programme a person is eligible to benefit from, they are required to go through two processes – assessment and determination. Assessment is a medical process for evaluating the kind of difficulty or an impairment a person has and determination will decide what kind of benefits the person will be able to access after they will be given a disability identity card or certificate. She said,
Most of the social protection schemes like providing assistive devices, cash transfers, skill development or subsidised loans for self-employment among others require a disability ID card or disability certification. The amount of assistance, for example, the cost covered for assistive devices vary as per the disability assessed and determined. For example, under the Scheme Of Assistance To Disabled Persons For Purchase/Fitting Of Aids/Appliances (ADIP Scheme) the full cost of the aid/appliance will be covered by the government for a person with a disability whose monthly income is less than Rs. 6,000 and 50 per cent of the cost will be covered for those who have a monthly income between Rs. 6,000 to Rs. 10,000.
She added that while many other countries are moving towards universalisation of social security programmes among the disabled population, in India, the cash transfer welfare schemes like disability pension target only those persons who have a family annual income of Rs. 12,500 which is Rs. 1,041 per month which leaves out the maximum population.
While talking about the scheme for providing assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, artificial limbs, walking sticks, hearing aids, Ms Balasubramanian said that for the distribution of aids, the government usually reaches out to eligible persons with disabilities through NGOs. However, she said that even those who are getting devices free of cost from the government are not able to benefit because those are mostly one-fit all and not customised as per the specific needs of the people.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) Report on Disability 2018, only 23.8 per cent of persons with locomotor disability, 31.5 per cent of persons with visual impairment and 19.1 per cent of persons with hearing impairment, among those who have been advised to have assistive devices, have accessed one. However, among those who have accessed devices, only 5-9 per cent have done so through government programmes.
Budget Fails To Meet Long Pending Demands Of The Community: Experts
GST Free Assistive Devices For the Persons With Disabilities
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) law imposes a tax of 5 per cent on disability assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs, walking frames, tricycles, braille paper, braille typewriters and braille watches and many other items; Orthopaedic appliances, including crutches, artificial limbs and hearing aids are taxed at 12 per cent; adapted cars for physically challenged persons are taxed at 18 per cent.
Mr Malhorta believes that GST makes these aids and appliances unaffordable for persons with disabilities and intrudes upon their right to life, communication and movement. He along with many other disability rights activists have been demanding for exempting disability assistive devices from GST to make these more accessible to those who require such devices for participating in the society and exercising their rights. However, this year also, the budget has not made any changes in the taxation policy for disability assistive devices.
Increased Pension Amount
Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS) under the National Social Assistance Program (NSAP) of the Ministry of Rural Development provides for ‘Pension for persons with disabilities who are below the poverty line and live in rural areas. The allocation towards pension for persons with disabilities has increased slightly from Rs. 284.84 crore in2021-22 (RE) to Rs. 290 crore in 2022-23 (BE). The amount of the pension per person per month is Rs. 300. According to Mr Vishwanath, persons with disabilities have been demanding an increase in the disability pension for over a decade but the budgets have failed to meet this demand every year. He said,
The disability pension covers only 3.8 per cent of the total disabled population identified by the 2011 census. Even the amoung of Rs. 1000 per person per month over and above Rs. 300, announced at the beginning of the pandemic IS targeted AT this population only, he said.
Mr Vishwanath stressed that Rs. 300 per month as pension from the Central government is highly inadequate. He said that along with the Centre, the state governments also provide pensions but even that is insufficient. He said,
Pension amounts given by states differ. Most of the states provide less than Rs. 2,000. Delhi gives Rs. 2,500 per month and Telangana provides Rs. 3,160 per month, which is the highest in the country. Given that due to the pandemic, many of us have lost jobs and that our community already suffers from extreme poverty, lack of access to livelihood opportunities, education and health and is bound to pay extra cost for private transportation due to lack of access to public transport, we do not get the support required from the Central and State governments.
Better Population Survey And Need Based Assessment Of The Disabled Population
Ms Balasubramanian highlighted that PwDs are invisible in most of the policies of the government because they are grossly undercounted. She said,
The Population Census 2011 estimated that there are almost 2.8 crore people with disabilities which is about 2.2 per cent of the population. However, this does not give the true picture because the questionnaire for the survey has questions that exclude more people. Questions like ‘Are you a person with a disability?’ or ‘Is there a disabled person in your family?’ which are problematic because there is a lot of stigma attached and people hesitate to reveal their disabilities or that there is someone in their family who is disabled. This makes it impossible to ascertain the true disabled population. We have made several submissions to the government to modify the questionnaire with questions like ‘Do you have a difficulty?’. There are better models of disability census adopted by other countries like the one developed by Washington Group on Disability Statistics which can help in a more realistic estimate of the disabled population.
She further emphasised that in order to design efficient programmes to enable them to participate in the society on an equal basis, the government needs to understand the needs of the population which can be done only by conducting specific surveys among the population along with a population survey. She said,
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) should communicate the needs of the disabled population but the questionnaire they use for the survey is so inadequate and it cannot provide information about what is really required to be done.
According to experts, the government should conduct consultations with the community during the budget-making process and must include them in planning, policy designing and decision making. They emphasised that the barriers that persons with disabilities face are not created by their impairment by itself but by the discriminatory attitude of the society. What the experts expect from budgets is to address the under-representation and under-participation of persons with disabilities in the economy.
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