Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ordinance Route to push Disability Bill 2014 is against the Constitution

Dear Colleagues,

If we believe the news making headlines in today's newspapers, that the Congress leadership is trying to push the flawed disability bill of 2014 through promulgation of an ordinance - a backdoor entry, this is a disturbing trend  and must be desisted.

Firstly, without repealing the existing Act of 1995 the government - which is days away from the Declaration of fresh Elections for 16th Lok Sabha- they can not enforce this ordinance to benefit people even if brought in haste like this. Keeping in mind that even today, there are some states that do not have full time Disability Commissioners, over 50% persons with disabilities do not have disability certificates as admitted by the Minister himself in the parliament- do those who are supporting this bill claiming to be representing disabilities not covered in the present Act believe that all institutions promised in the ordinance would be constituted within 6-7 months and start to function to give them relief....?

If they believe so... they are grossly mistaken. And then, this ordinance will die its natural death, if the next government doesn't favour it.  Conventionally, it is the next government that should decide the fate of such pending bills which couldn't be passed by the parliament. At least I am sure that the present dispensation is not going to come back.... for the voter is now more aware! 

I strongly feel that ideally since the bill has been referred to the standing committee, we should await a better consensus bill. An ordinance will create huge confusion and will work counter productive for the existing rights available under the Act of 1995.  If the pressing needs of the disabilities not covered under the existing act are so overpowering, then the only prudent option  available in such a scenario is to bring in an ordinance improving the existing Act of 1995 to add the disabilities and extend the benefit to those who remain unrepresented. The existing Act had held the forte for close to two decades and a strong case law has been developed which shouldn't be lost sight of.  

Meanwhile let the Standing Committee do its work in partnership with the disability sector and let them bring in a consensus bill through democratic means. Will the Congress listen to the viable option or do they just want RaGa to play super government to score some brownie points?

Here is the writeup by Dr. Dhanda in Indian Express

February 24, 2014 11:38 pm

Amita Dhanda
Government should use the ordinance route, not to push the 2014 disabilities bill, but to make the 1995 act more inclusive.

In the realm of disability rights, the events of the last month have been controversial. The government obtained cabinet approval for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, which does not meet the standards prescribed under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as it reinforces popular stereotypes instead of challenging  them, and permits discrimination rather than prohibiting it.

It also moves backwards on questions of autonomy, choice and liberty. Due to these regressive features, segments of the disability sector have criticised the bill. The bill’s supporters pointed to its inclusion of 13 new impairments and the enhanced percentage of job reservation. Since the losses were outweighing the gains and many provisions required fixing, the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha referred the bill for consideration by a House committee — the most appropriate solution.

The dust had barely settled on this decision before another controversy engulfed the disability rights legislation. There are rumours that the government is planning to enact the bill as an ordinance. Two questions are being raised: one, can the government enact the bill through an ordinance after referring it to a House committee? And two, should the government take this route?

Under Article 123 of the Constitution, the president has the power to make law through ordinances, provided that first, both Houses are not in session and second, the president is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary that immediate action should be taken. Insofar as the two Houses are not in session, the first condition is satisfied. However, the second condition is not met. The bill was sent to a House committee because it needed more work. It was only introduced in the House and sent to the committee, and no urgency to enact the bill was expressed or shown.

Any effort now to enact the bill as an ordinance, after it has been referred to the House committee, would, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in D.C. Wadhwa vs State of Bihar, be seen as a colourable exercise of power and a fraud on the Constitution. On a plain reading of the Constitution and by relying on judicial decisions, it can be stated that the president cannot enact the bill by promulgating an ordinance.

It is also important to ask whether the government should enact the bill by using an ordinance. While considering this question, we should appreciate that disability rights is not an unoccupied field. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 already controls the area. If the new bill is promulgated as an ordinance, it cannot become operable unless the act of 1995 is repealed. The act of 1995 has empowered a series of individual bodies and authorities to implement the statute.

All these entities would become dysfunctional if it is repealed. But there would be no time to establish and render functional new authorities, because an ordinance can be operable for a maximum of seven and a half months without obtaining parliamentary approval. Going the ordinance route would not benefit the freshly included impairments, but would create an enforcement vacuum even for the disabilities already included in the 1995 act. Enacting the disabilities bill through the ordinance route would usher confusion and chaos, and could cause all disabilities to lose legislative protection.

With the bill referred to the House committee, the newly included disabilities are at a special disadvantage. Since 1999, when a committee set up to suggest amendments to the 1995 act highlighted the need for inclusion, the battle has been on to recognise excluded impairments. The disabilities included in the 1995 act await the passage of the new law while continuing to obtain the benefits and entitlements provided earlier. But the disabilities not so included get nothing.

It is important that all disabilities are similarly positioned so that they can work on the passage of a robust CRPD-consonant legislation. This is a situation of inequity which needs to be remedied. Since the two Houses are not in session and the enactment of the new law will necessarily take some time, the government should use its power under Article 123 to amend the 1995 act to include the new impairments that would have obtained inclusion if the new bill were passed. At the same time, the inadequacies of the new bill should be rectified by the House committee. By adopting this policy of activism and restraint, the government could do right by all sections of the disability community.

The writer is professor and head, Centre for Disability Studies, NALSAR, Hyderabad.

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