Wednesday, October 16, 2013

3000 Crore outlay for disability under 12th 5 year plan is useless if not spent


Monday, 30 September 2013 | Jaya Shroff Bhalla | New Delhi

While projects worth Rs 1800-crore in the 11th Five-Year Plan meant for the welfare of the physically challenged have not been started yet, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (SJE) has yet again earmarked Rs 3000-crore for new disability projects.

SJE Minister Kumari Selja who reviewed the implementation of the People with Disabilities Act with State Commissioners earlier this year, admitted to the delays. “The Twelfth Five-Year Plan, which earmarks a total allocation to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore, will see a number of ambitious initiatives being implemented. These include setting up of a National Centre for Universal Design, Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre (ISLRTC) and Braille printing presses across India,” said Selja addressing a meeting of State Disabilities Commissioners.

“We will also harmonise all the relevant domestic laws (including mainstream laws) and policies with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD),” she said. However, the ground situation remains rather grim. Most of these incomplete projects — like the Right to Education for the disabled, which has been a long-standing demand of the physically challenged community — still remain in limbo.

The task force constituted by the Ministry in 2010, to work out the details for the establishment of the proposed National Centre for Universal Design - to make the physical and academic environment disabled-friendly. Headed by Samir K. Brahmachari, Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, taskforce submitted its report in 2011, but the Ministry did not act in three years. The partnership project of MSJE and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) of setting up Indian Sign Language Research and Training Center (ISLRTC) in 2011 has also been shelved.

 A project worth Rs 44-crore could have helped at least 2500 deaf persons in opting for professional studies. In two years, except for laying the foundation stone, there has been no progress. The Ministry took up the matter with IGNOU authorities in April, but to no avail. Most Braille printing presses across the State are also dying a slow death because of outdated machinery and technology. An example being: the Malakpet Press - the only Braille printing press in Andhra Pradesh set-up in 1986 for producing textual learning material for the visually impaired — hasn’t been upgraded. The visually-challenged workers — who are facing job losses launched an online campaign called the While the Centre is promising to create new Braille presses, some like Malakpet are dying for want of moderisation.

“We know that there has been a delay and that is why this department of disability was carved out by MSJE in July 2012 to look into the gaps,” said a senior official from MSJE.

“While the concept note for Institute of Universal Design is ready and we are waiting to give it a physical shape, the other projects will take some time to take off,” said the official. The official who was speaking to The Pioneer exclusively said that due to troubled waters with the IGNOU VC, the ISLRTC, the institute for the deaf and mute has almost been scrapped. “We had given the Rs 16 crore as an initial payment for the project, which we are trying to retract. There after, the Ministry is planning to open an independent institute.”

“After much noise by the disabled activists, funds were sanctioned by the Ministry in the 11th plan but in five years nothing came up. The Sign Language Centre was also mostly eye washed,” said Javed Abidi, convenor, Disabled Rights Group. “We have been hearing of the Universal Design Centre coming up every year but nothing much has moved,” he said.

“Money to the tune of several hundred crores was sanctioned for projects but has remained unutilised. This is in blatant violation of the disabled persons Right to Education,” said Anjlee Agarwal, director, NGO Samarthyam, who was also part of the task force for Universal Design Centre.

“Right to quality education is every person’s prerogative. Under the RTE, disabled should be included with the mainstream, but without Braille language books for the blind, and sign language interpreters for the deaf, quality education remains elusive to the challenged,” she said. Agarwal said that the Government should act soon if it does not want another generation of disabled to remain unemployed, socially aloof and academically handicapped. Even Sminu Jindal, from Swayam, an NGO working for disabled said, “While enhanced reservations in education and jobs are welcome but unless the Government makes physical and academic infrastructure accessible, all this seems a farce.”

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