Accept Universal Validity of UDID, Not Mandatory Possession
THE National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) has addressed two letters to the secretary, department of empowerment of persons with disabilities, Government of India on issues surrounding the validity of the Universal Disability ID (UDID) Card.
Dated March 15, 2023 the letters are in response to an office memorandum and a DO letter issued by the department of empowerment of persons with disabilities (DEPwD), Government of India, which is the nodal department for disability affairs. Both these letters raise concerns about the manner in which the central government is implementing the UDID cards project.
The disability certificate is a basic document that legally establishes the disabled identity of a person. Possession of such a certificate issued by a designated medical authority is mandatory for availing the benefits of any schemes or programme viz. disability pension, aids and appliances, scholarships etc. Even for lodging a complaint under the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPD Act), production of such a certificate is mandatory.
Prior to the enactment of the RPD Act, the validity of the disability certificate was limited to the state in which it was issued. A certificate issued in Delhi was not valid even in neighbouring Gurgaon or Ghaziabad. It was not even valid for booking a railway ticket availing concessions in any station under the Indian Railways network. For that you needed a separate certificate issued by the railways. For various other purposes, separate certification by the designated authority of that particular department, board or agency was needed. A disabled person therefore had to possess a host of certificates each for a different purpose. This led to a lot of unwanted harassment and trauma. Getting one certificate itself, given the procedural and other hurdles, was a big headache. The fact that a mere 1,74,25,905 of the 2,68,14,944 disabled population identified by the 2011 census possess a disability certificate is enough to vouch for the myriad problems that the disabled face in procuring a document so necessary for proving one’s disability.
It is against this background that the foremost demand that the NPRD raised at its inception in 2010 was for the universal validity of the disability certificate. This fructified in 2016 with a pilot being launched for a universal disability ID. This UDID was supposed to be valid for all purposes across states, departments and boards. The universal validity of the disability certificate was also written into the 2016 RPD Act on the intervention of the NPRD.
However, the roll out of the UDID has not been without hiccups, which continue to this day. Inadequate funding apart, the reluctance of a few state governments, amongst whom the TMC-led West Bengal state government stands out starkly, have all led to the slow pace of the progress of the project. According to the Annual Report 2021-22 of the DEPwD, only 67,09,894 cards have been issued as of January 19, 2022. West Bengal fares the worst with a mere nine cards being issued till date.
Its tardy implementation notwithstanding, it is the outright refusal by several government departments to accept the validity of the UDID, defeating the very purpose for its introduction, that is more problematic.
Instead of speeding up its implementation by organising special camps etc as also compliance by its own ministries/departments to accept the validity of the card, the DEPwD is holding the disabled responsible and taking them to task.
Through an office memorandum issued on March 1, 2023 the DEPwD has sought to make the UDID or UDID enrollment with disability certificate mandatory for various schemes of the DEPwD. The NPRD has strongly disapproved of this OM which would deprive more than 50 per cent of disabled population holding certificates from the coverage of various schemes. The NPRD views it as patently illegal and unjust.
In its letter addressed to the secretary of the DEPwD, the NPRD has said that “While it may be desirable that all disabled persons procure the UDID card, it cannot and should not be imposed on them. It should be of their own free will and volition”.
Moreover, making the UDID mandatory for various schemes or programmes would not stand the scrutiny of law. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 Sec. 58, clause (3) only lays down the universal validity of the disability certificate. It does not impose any obligation on the certificate holder.
The NPRD has emphasised that while it would be obligatory on the part of the government/service provider to accept the validity of the disability certificate, possessing the UDID card is not mandatory for the disabled.
Moreover, even if the government amends the law to make the UDID mandatory, in a situation where more than half of the disabled population holding certificates have not been issued UDID cards for whatever reasons, would only lead to deprivation from “benefits/relaxations” under various schemes to such persons, they having been declared persona non granta for no fault of theirs. This is patently unjust to say the least. Needless to add about the unnecessary harassment and trauma that this would cause.
We also apprehend that over a period of time, this will be used as a cue by various agencies and state governments to make the UDID mandatory for other schemes/programmes of both the central and state governments. This will lead to, as pointed out earlier, exclusion of large sections from the purview of schemes/programmes of the government targeting this section of the population. Even otherwise, as a consequence of the squeeze in budgetary allocations, under various pretexts the number of beneficiaries under several schemes are being cut down. The insistence on UDID would but provide another handle to boost such efforts.
Given these facts and circumstances, the NPRD has called for the withdrawal of the OM.
Even while urging state governments to accept their validity, it is striking that the DEPwD is unable to convince ministries/departments under the central government to do the same, despite it being a central project.
It is this contradiction in its approach that the NPRD sought to draw attention to through another letter the same day.
Through another DO letter addressed to the chief secretary, Tamil Nadu, the DEPwD has asked the TN government to recognise the validity of the UDID for various state government schemes. While appreciating the thrust of this letter, the NPRD has called upon the DEPwD to display the same passion and zeal with the concerned ministries/departments of the central government.
It also drew attention to a PIL filed by the NPRD in the Delhi High Court, in which the ministry of railways is the main respondent. Despite the roll out of the UDID in 2016, the railways are refusing to accept the same. They have mandated that disabled travellers desirous of availing concessions should apply for a separate card issued by the railways, negating the very purpose of the UDID.
The NPRD in its letter has therefore urged the department to prevail upon the railways and other departments of the central government to accept the validity of the UDID and stop them from unnecessarily harassing disabled people.
Speedy implementation of the UDID through special camps and its universal acceptance will be one of the demands that the NPRD will be raising at its planned dharna in Delhi on July 10, 2023.
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