January 22, 2023

Third NPRD Conference: Strengthen Fight for Rights

THE third conference of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has given a clarion call for sustained struggles amongst others on the issue of social security and earnest implementation of various provisions regarding the same as mandated in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016; expanding its reach to all states and making the NPRD a truly representative platform of various disabilities.

Held at Hyderabad on December 27-28, 2022 in the premises of the St. Mary’s Group of Institutions, rechristened as Sailen Chaudhury Nagar after the late NPRD vice president, in attendance were 210 delegates from nine state affiliates.

Formed in 2010, the NPRD was envisaged as a broad platform to bring under its umbrella disability rights organisations. The NPRD constitution provides for granting affiliation to “mass membership based organisations of persons with disabilities working in any state or union territory of India”. It also has provision for “associate members” of “non-mass membership based disabled persons organisations and institutions”. Currently, apart from ten state affiliates it has one associate member affiliated to it. From humble beginnings in 2010, currently the total membership of all its affiliates put together exceeds three lakhs.

The conference was inaugurated with the hoisting of the sky-blue flag of the NPRD by president Kanti Ganguly. After the election of various committees, the condolence resolution was moved by treasurer S Namburajan.

Recalling the numerous struggles that had preceeded the enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD Act), Kanti Ganguly in his presidential address called for waging a relentless struggle to ensure that its provisions are implemented in each and every state in the country.

He also drew attention to the communal danger and the need of the disabled community to be vigilant and to fight against attempts to disrupt their unity. He called for solidarity and unity with the other democratic forces fighting to defend democracy, for communal amity, against discrimination and for assertion of their rights.

The draft report introduced by general secretary Muralidharan on behalf of the executive committee pointed out that disabled people were the worst affected by the Covid pandemic. The WHO's World Report on Disability, 2011 had noted that people with disabilities were more likely to be older, poorer, experience co-morbidities etc. These were also the risk factors during the pandemic.  It is well established that disasters and emergencies disproportionately impact people with disabilities. Despite being more vulnerable, the disabled had reduced access to routine health care, rehabilitation, food, education and employment and they also had to bear the adverse effects of the measures taken to mitigate the pandemic, apart from other impacts.

The report also noted that there were many barriers to inclusion of the disabled in the response to Covid worldwide. Even in India, even the disability specific guidelines were not followed properly. The ex-gratia of Rs 1000 (to be paid in two instalments) targeted a mere 3.8 per cent of the disabled population (those covered by the national pension scheme), compelling the disabled to be more dependent on families and charities for support. The measures put in place by governments were far too meagre and woefully inadequate.

The report underlined that during the course of the last five years under the BJP-led central government, disability rights have taken a beating. Its aggressive pursuit of neoliberal policies, policies of privatisation of the public sector, squeeze on public spending on social security, refusal to enhance budgetary spending on health, shrink in budgetary allocations to disability – have all meant added miseries for the already socially and economically marginalised disabled population, pushing them into further poverty and ruin.

In the union budget, the specific allocations for persons with disabilities the percentage was a miserly 0.0097 per cent of the GDP in 2020-21, has gone down further to 0.0084 in 2022-23. Even from this paltry sum 34.99 per cent was unspent in the year 2020-21. In the year 2021-22 also, as per the annual report of the department of empowerment of persons with disabilities, of the Rs 1044.31 allocated only Rs 540.81 was spent, starkly exposing the apathy and disregard to the plight of the disabled population.

The report noted that the BJP has a very retrograde approach to disability issues.  It draws inspiration from Manusmriti, which condemns the disabled as cursed and outcastes. This outlook leads it to adopt an approach of pity and charity, as opposed to rights.

Its scant regard for institutions and their democratic functioning is also reflected in its refusal to appoint the chief commissioner of persons with disabilities and chairpersons of the national trust and the Rehabilitation Council of India for several years together.

Unfortunately, with exceptions, large number of disability rights organisations and NGOs working in this sector have either succumbed to pressure or have been coopted.

Fifteen delegates from eight states participated in the discussion on the draft report. While endorsing the thrust of the report and its direction, the delegates suggested various amendments to strengthen it. They also drew attention to the setbacks during this period and emphasized on adequate measures to consolidate and for the NPRD to bring under its fold organisations from other states where it is currently not represented. The discussions on the report revealed the growing consciousness among the NPRD affiliates of the emerging situation and the challenges ahead. The translation of the report from English to vernacular languages and their receiving copies ahead of the conference also helped.

After the reply by the general secretary, accepting various amendments and suggestions, the report was unanimously adopted. The conference also decided against changing the character and structure of the platform and converting it into a mass organisation, as suggested by some delegates.

Fulfilling the constitutional requirement, the audited accounts for the intervening period was placed by treasurer S Namburajan.

The conference elected a 41 member EC with six vacancies, of whom one-third are new members. The EC elected 11 office bearers with Kanti Ganguly as patron, Gireesh Kheerti as president, S Namburajan as working president, and K R Chakravarthy as treasurer. All of them were elected to these positions for the first time. Muralidharan was re-elected as general secretary. Three vice-presidents and three joint secretaries were also elected. Earlier, the conference had adopted an amendment to the NPRD constitution providing for the posts of a patron and a working president.

The conference was preceded by a public meeting at Hyderabad’s Indira Park on December 26. Hundreds of disabled persons from all parts of Telangana attended the meeting, some travelling overnight to reach, while some contingents could just make it to the venue as the meeting was coming to a close late in the afternoon. The meeting was inaugurated by Kanti Ganguly who while recalling the glorious role played by the people of Telangana in the freedom struggle called for much broader and wider mobilisation of disabled people to fight for their rights in the coming days. Muralidharan called for relentless struggles on issues of social security, against the New Education Policy and growing unemployment. Others who spoke at the public meeting were NPRD office bearers and activists P Mohanan, Jansirani, M Adivaiah, C Sayamma, K Venkat, R Venkatesh and Umar Khan.

Coinciding with the conference a seminar on issues of “Education, Employment and Health” for the disabled was held on December 27. Inaugurating the seminar, Dr R Bindu, minister for higher education and social justice, Kerala, bemoaned the fact that though India had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in October 2007, there are many laws that are yet to be harmonised in tune with the provisions of the convention. She highlighted the various programmes and schemes initiated by the LDF government in Kerala targeting the disabled population and emphasized that it will endeavour to create level playing fields for them. It is as part of this, that initiatives like “Barrier Free Kerala” have been launched.  Amongst others who spoke at the seminar were Kanti Ganguly, KVK Rao, Cherupalli Sitaramulu and M Adivaiah.

In keeping with the call of the conference for sustained struggles on social security issues, which came to the fore during the pandemic period, the conference passed a resolution calling for a march to parliament demanding enhancement in both the amount and coverage of centrally disbursed disability pension (currently it is a miserly Rs 300 per month and reaches only 3.8 per cent of the disabled population identified by the 2011 census); implementation of the Delhi High Court directive on providing Antayodaya Anna Yojana cards to all disabled; more jobs and workdays under MNREGA; accessibility and other issues connected with railways etc. The resolution was moved by Anirban Mukherjee and seconded by M Adivaiah.