Vol. XLI No. 21 May 21, 2017

CPI(M) General Secretary Expresses Concern over Rules for Disabilities Act

CPI(M) general secretary and member of parliament, Sitaram Yechury has written a letter to the minister for social justice and empowerment, Thawar Chand Gehlot on May 16, 2017 expressing concern over the manner in which rules are being framed for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.

The letter noted that in the 2016 winter session of parliament, whereas no other legislative business could be considered, it was only the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill that was taken up and passed in both houses after a debate. Members cutting across party lines were unanimous in wanting to ensure that the bill for which persons with disabilities were waiting for nearly a decade since the country signed the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was passed without any further delay.

Participating in the debate in the Rajya Sabha, Yechury had sought to press for certain specific amendments which he had moved.

One of these pertained to Section 3, sub-section 3 of the bill which says “No person with disability shall be discriminated on the ground of disability, unless it is shown that the impunged act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.  He had contended that a legislation that is supposed to be anti-discriminatory cannot contain a provision that legitimises discrimination and had hence sought to replace it with: "No person with disability shall be discriminated on the grounds of disability".

In response the minister had given an assurance on the floor of the house that these will be taken care of while the rules are being framed. Given this assurance and the mood of the house, he did not press for a division.

However, having read the Gazette Notification of April 21, 2016 of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities publishing the draft rules being framed under the Act, he was surprised that these do not effectively ensure compliance of the assurance that had been given by the minister. While the provision in the rules that sub-section (3) of Section 3 of the Act will not be “misused” is welcome, this by itself does not provide adequate protection. While what would constitute “legitimate aim” has nowhere been defined in the Act, even the onus of proving that the act was not “legitimate” rests solely on the aggrieved person. The remedy of approaching the chief commissioner or state commissioner of persons with disabilities, will put unnecessary burden on the aggrieved person. It goes without saying that it should be the responsibility of the concerned establishment to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the said act or omission is indeed for achieving a “legitimate aim” and not the duty of the aggrieved person to prove otherwise, the letter noted.

Yechury urged the minister to ensure that the assurance given by him on the floor of the house is abided in letter and spirit. He also said that the representation from the disability sector in the committee constituted to frame the rules was inadequate. Given the fact that now several new disabilities have been accorded recognition, it would have been in the fitness of things if more representation had been there. There have also been complaints that the suggestions made by various people from the sector have not been seriously considered, Yechury wrote in the letter.

Since this pertains to framing of rules under a law assuring certain rights to one of the most marginalised sections of our society, Yechury urged the minister to hold consultations involving all stakeholders at both the state and national level before the rules are finalised. He wrote that this would be in the true spirit of the assurances given by the minister in the house.