Sunday, June 7, 2020

Despite IRDAI Advisories in 2016, Persons with Disabilities & other Vulnerable Groups still hankering for Equitable Insurance Covers.

Dear Colleagues,

In 2016 the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) asked the Insurance Companies to cover all kinds of risks under health policies,  and to provide covers for individuals with special needs, but the Companies are still reluctant and lacking clarity - and as a result the persons with disabilities, people with anxiety and people with HIV have no insurance cover. 

IRDAI has now again asked insurers to be transparent about offering health covers to those with HIV/AIDS, mental health issues and for persons with disabilities, since there is no coverage provided to this segment by the companies.

In compliance of the IRDA notification of 2016, the insurance companies subtly stopped using or simply removed the language related to excluding coverage for those with mental illness, disabilities and HIV to escape the long arm of the law, however, they did not actively start any coverage.

Experience from the field indicates that the Insurers routinely reject covers for differently-abled citing higher risks. For mental health issues and HIV/AIDS, there are hardly any covers available to individual customers.

So far, only national health insurance schemes run by the Govt. partially cover some of these conditions. For example, the 'Niramaya Health Insurance Scheme' by the National Trust covers conditions arising from disabilities, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, and multiple disabilities. 'Ayushman Bharat', which started after the change in regulation brought out by IRDAI, has 17 packages for mental health disorders, which also includes psychoactive substance use and covers ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy), rTMS (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and most of the blood tests.  But sadly, even Ayushman Bharat, does not cover HIV as of today, though there are discussions to include this condition.

Similarly, few popular state health insurance schemes running for nearly a decade like Maharashtra's 'Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Jan Arogya Yojana' or Tamil Nadu's 'Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme' do not cover these conditions.

Likewise in the private sector, only Star Health Insurance has two plans dealing with the marginalised segments, that too are severely restricted :-
(a)  "India Medi-Classic Insurance Plan" - that covers the HIV positive or AIDS patients. (b) "Indemnity-oriented health insurance policy" - to cover children and young adults (aged 3-25) with autism.
In light of such huge deficit in the insurance coverage, the IDRAI in a notification on June 2, 2020, [link takes you to the website of IRDA], has asked insurers to provide detailed information on their websites stating their underwriting philosophy on covering people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS or mental illnesses. This has to be done by October 1, 2020. However, mere disclosure will not solve issues caused by absence of products.

Access the signed PDF Copy (inaccessible to screen readers)  of the circular Here. Content of the Circular are also pasted below for the purpose of accessibility: 

'CIRCULAR

 Ref: IRDAI/HLT/MISC/CIR/129/06/2020                    Dated:   02nd June, 2020 

To 

All Insurers (Except ECGC and AIC) 

Sub: Disclosure of underwriting philosophy of offering Insurance coverage to Persons with Disability (PWD) and people affected with HIV/AIDS and Mental Illness diseases. 

1.    Reference is drawn to the provisions of IRDAI (Health Insurance) Regulations, 2016 in accordance to which every insurer shall evolve a health insurance underwriting policy covering approach and aspects relating to offering health insurance coverage not only to standard lives but also to substandard lives. Further insurance companies shall also comply with various provisions of HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2017 and Mental healthcare Act, 2017. 

2.    Notwithstanding the above provisions, it is considered essential that the targeted population of every insurer shall have complete information on the philosophy that insurers adopt while complying with the above referred provisions. 

3.    In furtherance to above, all Insurers are instructed to publish on their respective websites the underwriting philosophy and approach with regard to offering insurance coverage to the following category of population: 
a.    Persons with Disabilities ( PWD)
b.    Persons affected with HIV /AIDSc.
c.    Persons affected with Mental Illness diseases. 
4.    All Insurers (Life, General and Health Insurers) are here by directed to comply with the aforesaid instruction by 01st October, 2020. 

5.    This has the approval of the competent authority.  

                                                                                   (DVS RAMESH)  


                                                                                   GENERAL MANAGER (H)'

I can recall how the Postal Life Insurance (PLI) justified the extra premium and reduced sum assured to persons with disabilities when it was challenged in W.P.(C) No.10323/2009 titled Vikas Gupta Versus Union of India.  The Hon’ble  Delhi High court in the instant case agreed that charging extra premium from employees with disabilities was indeed a discrimination on the basis of disability and therefore in a remarkable judgement directed the postal life insurance to provide equal insurance coverage and not charge extra premium from the employees with disabilities. Read my earlier discussion dated 22 April 2012 on the subject in the post titled 'Extra Premium or Reduced Insurance Cover, both discriminatory against Disabled - Delhi HC'

Some Experiences from the field 
Mumbai-based software professional Nikhil Deshpande had sought a cover from his health insurance for his anxiety therapy sessions and related medication which costs almost Rs 7,000 per month. He was also hospitalised twice last year. However, the insurer informed him that no cover was available.

The same goes for the differently-abled as well. Pratigya Tiwari from Kolkata who lost her eyesight due to polio at the age of seven in 1998, still does not have a health cover. Reason? All insurers said that she is prone to higher risks and will cause adverse selection.

“I work in an administrative position in a power facility and also travel to work on a daily basis. Especially with the coronavirus pandemic, I am at a loss because if I am hospitalised I do not have any insurance. Why can’t the regulator make it mandatory?” asks Tiwari.

The magic word here is ‘mandatory’. So far, IRDAI has only ‘advised’ companies to offer covers for all types of risks, defined in insurance parlance as ‘standard’ and ‘sub-standard’ lives.

Here, standard lives are regular able-bodied individuals with no ailments whereas substandard are defined as all others. Lack of data to price products is often cited as a reason to reject covers.

While IRDAI had advised insurers to cover all kinds of health requirements, be it HIV/AIDS, cancer or mental health, the truth is that less than 10 percent of the industry is offering covers.

“Whatever few covers are available, they are not adequate in sum assured sizes. Further, the annual premiums are above Rs 20,000 which is not affordable for the masses,” said disability rights' activist Naveen Das.

Das also questioned that when insurers were offering covers for diabetes, blood pressure and even advanced stages of cancer, why not offer covers for all disabilities. When individuals with some sort of physical disabilities function normally without any major concerns, he explained that it is baffling why insurers don’t want to offer covers.

Insurance companies are of the view that certain sections of the society are high-risk depending on their physical and mental well-being. Companies feel that offering an individual cover to such people would lead to a high ratio of claims because a proportion of the high-risk category would require medical intervention at regular intervals.

Insurance works as a pooling concept where premium is put into a common pool and the claims are paid out of it. Underwriting officials believe that insuring individuals who are prone to claim regularly would mean that ‘healthy’ individuals would compensate for premium loss by having to pay a higher annual cost for covers. This argument has been earlier rejected by the Courts as indicated in the ibid judgement of Vikas Gupta Vs. UOI.

An article in MoneyControl.com titled 'Four years on, the differently abled, anxiety and HIV patients have no insurance cover. Is IRDAI doing enough?' suggests that  a better solution would be to have standardised products of health insurance of say Rs 5-7 lakh size with a premium range of Rs 10,000-12,000 for those with special needs. Those seeking a higher cover size could buy a top-up plan by paying a market-linked premium. This will ensure that no individual in India is denied a health insurance cover. With the absence of a standard social security scheme (except for the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana for those below poverty line), there should be more standard medical covers across the spectrum covering those with all types of physical and mental health.

As of now, in the private health insurance space, very few insurers provide coverage for HIV positive/AIDS patients. One of these policies that provide coverage is Star Health Insurance's India Medi-classic Insurance plan. And with regard to disabilities, Star health provides an indemnity-oriented health insurance policy for children and young adults with autism.

Issues that we still need to work on 
However, issues I had raised in my article dated 22 Apr 2012, continue to be relevant and we need to work on these issues. I reiterate the same once again with some improvements:-

(a) The insurance sector still discriminates on the basis of etiology of the disability i.e. causes of disability, whether it is from birth and after birth; neurological or physical and  then rates their lives accordingly,  which in my considered view has again no scientific base.

(b) The persons with neurological disabilities are still not allowed any insurance policy and needs to be challenged.

(c) The ibid Delhi HC judgement in 2012 only adjudicated about  PLI's inactions which is an insurance scheme for the benefit of government employees hence, it covered a very small section of persons with disabilities. Those who are outside the government jobs especially those in rural areas are far away from reaping the benefits of insurance, particularly health insurance. Though the judgement challenges the principles that have so far formed the basis for denying the insurance to the disabled.

(d) The Actuaries who are in the business of assessing the life risks are not aware of the real challenges and the lives of the persons with disabilities and they continue to live in their own world and decide on their own whims, the risk calculation of the life of a person with disabilities. They need to be sensitized and made aware not only about the lives of persons with disabilities but also the rights regime that UNCRPD brings.

(e) The entire literature on insurance that I had to read while pursuing this case from outside, I found it reinforced the stereotypes about persons with disabilities and their proneness to accident! Hence, we need new literature for future actuaries to understand that Disability can not be treated always as a negative health profile and that living with disability was distinct from suffering from a life threatening disease.

(f) There is a need to raise awareness that a person with visual impairment or with hearing impairment or with neurological impairment also enjoys good health like anybody else.

(g) The rules of Insurance sector needs to be changed in light of the 2012 judgement and a few more that came afterwards and applied across the sector. All insurance  issuing companies - be it private or government have to factor in the principles of this judgement and make amends. And this must apply to not just life insurance but also health insurance and other insurance products available in the market and we see a larger role of IRDAI- the insurance regulator in making their advisories mandatory.

Regards
Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Adv

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Focal Points in Different States & UTs of Govt. of India to address grievances of Persons with Disabilities during COVID19

Dear Colleagues

Government of India has facilitated the following list of Focal Points in different States/ Union Territories to address and attend to the Grievances of Persons with Disabilities during COVID19:

The contact details of the Focal Point at the Central level of Govt. of India is:-

Shri Vikash Prasad
Director
Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities,
Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment
Room No. 5, B-I Block, Antyodaya Bhawan,
CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi - 110003 (India)
vikash[dot]prasad[at]nic[dot]in

Here are the Contact details of Officers in different States/ UTs of India that have been given in the following order :-

S.Number
Name of State/UT
First Contact Details
Second Contact Details
Third Contact Details

1
Andaman & Nicobar
Ms. Ankita Mishra Bundela
Secretary (Social Welfare Department),
Andaman and Nicobar Administration,
Secretariat, Port Blair-744101
secyship.and@nic.in


2
Andhra Pradesh
Ms. K. Damyanti ,
Principal Secretary,
Social Welfare Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh
9100778087
peshisw1@gmail.com
peshi.wcdsc@gmail.com
M.A.Kumar Raja,
Deputy Director, Welfare of Differently Abled, Transgender & Sr.  Citizens, D.Number.74-14-2, 1st floor, rajanarendra building, Krishna Nagar, yanamalakuduru road, Vijayawada-520 007
94907 20301

3
Arunachal Pradesh
Ms. Niharika Rai
Secretary
Department of Women & Child Development, Social Justice & Empowerment & Tribal Affairs,
Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh,
Itanagar-791111
Mobile No. 8919173853

4
Assam
Shri K J Hilaly
State Commissioner of PwDS
Government of Assam
9435080266
Joint Director
9453182377

5
Bihar
Shri Atul Prasad,
Principal Secretary,
Department of Social Welfare,
Government of Bihar, Patna-800015, Bihar
09431005001
Email: swbihar@gmail.com
secysw-bih@nic.in 

6
Chhattisgarh
Shri Prassna R
Seceratary  social welfare
Govt.of chhattisgarh
94061 00100

7
Delhi
Shri Santosh Kumar Section officer
 Office of State commissioner PwDs, GNCT of Delhi
 85270 77845
Dr. A. Madhavi
DD disabilities
Deptt of Social welfare
GNCTD
9013270156
Sh. Nitish Mohan Tripathi
State Coordinator UDID project
9873936472

8
Goa
Shri S. K. Bhandari ,
Secretary,
Department of Social Welfare,
Government of Goa,
Porvorim-4035211,
Goa.
Mobile No. 9643335576
Email Id:- socialwelfaregoa@rediffmail.com
Shri Santano Fernandes
Deputy State Commissoner of Persons with Disabilities, Govt. of Goa
98814 35463

9
Gujarat
Shri MaNumberj Aggarwal
Principal Secretary,
Department of Social Justice & Empowerment,
Govt. of Gujarat,
Sardar Patel Bhawan, Block-5, 9th floor, Sachivalaya,
Gandhinagar-382010
Email: secswd@gujarat.gov.in
Mobile: 09978444105
Shri Dina Nath Pandey
State Commissoner of Persons with Disabilities, Govt. of Gujarat
9978406491

10
Haryana
Shri Dinesh Shastri
State Commissioner of Persons with Dsiabilities, Govt. of Haryana
Mobile Number:- 90500 80529


11
Jharkhand
Dr. Amitabh Kaushal,
Secretary,
Department of Women Child Development & Social Security,
Govt. of Jharkhand,
Room Number.304, Project Building, Dhurwa
Ranchi-834004,
Jharkhand.
Email: swdjharkhand@gmail.com
Mob: 09430119083
Shri Satish Chandra
State Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities
94312 71428

12
Kerala
Shri Biju Prabhakar
Special Secretary,
Social Justice Department,
Government of Kerala,
Mob: 9447035355
E-mail: sjsecykerala@gmail.com
Dr. G. Harikumar
State Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities, Govt. of Kerala
9447743797

13
Madhya Pradesh
Shri Sandeep Rajak
State Commissioner of PwDs
9425139344
Shri Sunil Sharma
Assistant Director
9752405244

14
Maharashtra
Prerna Deshbratar
State Commissioner, Disabilities, Maharashtra State, Govt. of Maharashtra, 3, Church Road. Pune – 411 001


15
Manipur
Shri. V. Vumlunmang
Principal Secretary, Social welfare and Health
Govt. of Manipur,
Imphal, Manipur.
Mobile- 09436034934
Email: jacinthalazarus@gmail.com
Shri. L. Dhaneshwor Singh
Child Welfare Officer
Social Welfare Department
Mobile Number:- 94360 27993

16
Meghalaya
Shri Sanjeet K Seal,
State Numberdal Officer,
UDID Project, Meghalaya
Mobile Number: 9436101358
Smti Bridget Warshong,
Asst Commissioner for PwDs, Govt of Meghalaya
Mobile Number: +919863086563
Shri Dylan Robby Syiem
State Coordinator UDID Project, Meghalaya
Mobile Number: 8415927160

17
Mizoram
Smt. Marli Vankung
Secretary,
Department of Social Welfare,
Govt. of Mizoram, Aizwal, Mizoram.
Mobile: 09436155461
Office : 0389 - 2318212
Email: socdepmiz@gmail.com
Dr. Ankita Chakravarty, IAS
Director
Social Welfare & Tribal Affairs
Social Welfare Department
Govt. of Mizoram
Mobile : 08289008855
Office : 0389 - 2395044
Email : Mizoramswd@gmail.com
Shri. F.Vanlalruata
State Coordinator, UDID Project
Mizoram
Mobile : 8974144424
Email : Mizoramswd@gmail.com

18
Nagaland
Smti Sarah. R. Ritse
Secretary,
Department of Social Welfare,
Govt. of Nagaland,
Kohima-797004.
Ms Diethono Nakhro
State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Govt. of Nagaland
Mobile Number:- 8258953837
Email Id :-

19
Odisha
Shri Bhaskar Jyoti Sharma
Principal Secretary,
Department of Social Security & Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities,
Government of Odisha,
SIDR Building, Capital Hospital Campus, Unit-6,
Bhubaneshwar-751001
Odisha.
Ms. Sulochna Das
State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Govt. of Odisha
Mobile Number:- 98610 80699

20
Puducherry
Shri.Ashokan.S
The Director,
Department of Social Welfare/Department of Women and Child Development,
Puducherry
Mobile Number:9443635370
Smti. Kalavady.D,
The Deputy Director
Numberdal Officer(COVID 2019)
Department of Social Welfare
Puducherry
Mobile Number: 9600219478
Smti. Kamalakumari V
The Superintendent(Establishment),
Staff Incharge(COVID 2019),
Department of Social Welfare,
Puducherry
Mobile Number:8637466067

21
Punjab
Shri Davinder Singh
Superintendent, O/O Director Social Security, Punjab
Mobile Number: 9888880363
Shri Gagandeep Shahi
State Coordinator , UDID, Punjab
Mobile Number: 9876377800
COVID 19:
The Department of Social Security and Women and Child Development ,Punjab has set up helpline service exclusively Persons with Hearing and Speech difficulties. They can use  the following WhatsApp Video Calling Helpline number to converse in Indian sign language:-
9888176357 ( Nitesh Sharma)
T&C
*Only Hearing/ speech  impaired Individuals Can Call .
*Plan your calls and Inform The Interpreter Before any Visit To the Doctor.
*Use Videocall During 9 am to 6 pm.
*Calls Between 10pm to 8 am are only for Emergency.
*Remember-Interpreters are not”Medical-Experts”

22
Rajasthan
Shri B.P Chandel
Deputy Director
Directorate of Specially Abled Persons, Rajasthan
Mobile number: +91 99283 09095

23
Sikkim
Shri K. Srineevasulu,
Principal Secretary
Social Justice, Empowerment & Welfare Department,
Govt. of Sikkim,
Samaj Kalyan Bhawan,
Lumsey, 5th Mile,
Gangtok-737102,
Sikkim.
Mobile No. 8919173853
Email: yangchenbhutia63@gmail.com

24
Tamil Nadu
Shri C. Vijayaraj Kumar
Secretary,
Department of Welfare of Differently Abled Persons
Govt. of Tamil Nadu,
Chennai-600078
Tamil Nadu.
Email: secywdap@tn.gov.in
Mobile Number : 0950037711
Thiru. Johny Tom Vargease I. A. S
State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities/ Director for Welfare of the Differently Abled
Email. Scd.tn@gmail.com
Mobile. +918800656753
Corona Virus 24X7 Helpline for Persons with Disabilities & Senior Citizens 18004250111 (Toll Free) WhatsApp & Video Call Helpline for Persons with Hearing and Speech Impairments to communicate with Sign Language Interpreters 9700799993

25
Telangana
Shri M. Jagadeeswar
Principal Secretary,
Department of Women & Child Welfare & Disabled Welfare,
Government of Telagana,
Hyderabad.
Mobile: 09849792093
Email: wcdsctg2014@gmail.com
Ms. Shailaja
Director and State Commissioner of PwDs
Department of Women & Child Welfare & Disabled Welfare,
Government of Telagana,
Hyderabad.
Mobile: 98499 05475
Email: wcdsctg2014@gmail.com

26
Tripura
Dr Deep Kumar Debbarma
State Surveillance Officer
7005513426, 9862670872
Shri Anant Das
(Superintendent of Police): 9436949241, 9612150583

27
Uttar Pradesh
Shri Mahesh Kumar Gupta
Addl. Chief Secretary,
Department of Disabled Welfare,
Govt. of Uttar Pradesh,
Room No.732, 7th Floor,
Bhapu Bhawan, Sachivalaya,
Lucknow-226001, Uttar Pradesh
Mobile Number: 09161737373
Email: psred2016@gmail.com
Shri S. K Shrivastav
State Commissioner of Persons with Disabilities, Uttar Pradesh
Mobile Number:- 95999 14539

28
Uttarakhand
Major Yogendra Yadav
State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities,
Govt. of Uttarakhand
Mobile. 99105 61116

29
West Bengal
Control Room 1070.            

033-22143526
 
30
Karnataka
Shri Basavaraju V S

State commissioner for Persons with Disabilities 

Mobile number +919449869430




Thursday, September 26, 2019

Polling Stations without lift can only use ground floor for assembly elections in Mumbai

In a bid to ensure accessibility during the forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, it has been decided that all polling stations will be on ground floor if there’s no lift, reports Times of India.

For the first time an assembly election will have all polling booths on the ground floor if the building does not have working lifts. Taxis and buses will also be arranged by the election commission to ferry the elderly, ailing or disabled voters. “Accessibility will be the main feature of this election and the administration is braced to achieve it,” city district collector Shivaji Jondhale and suburban collector Milind Borikar, who are also the district election officers, said in a public interaction organised by Together VCAN, a social forum.

Farog Mukadam, deputy election officer, said the city and suburbs had 2,540 and 7,395 polling stations and only 104 of these in the city and 450 in the suburbs had permission to operate from the first, second and third floors as these had functional lifts. There would also be ramps for voters moving on wheel-chairs. While city has around 5.5 lakh voters above the age of 60, the suburban district has approximately over 20 lakh senior citizens. The collectors said that at stations where rooms were not available on the ground floor, pandals would be erected to create polling booths.

There are around 2,600 persons with disabilities in the city district and around 5,500 in the suburban district. The city and suburbs have a target of achieving a minimum of 60% voting against the 53% and 57% achieved in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

“We have around 14 wheelchair-mounted vehicles donated by VCAN, a social forum and six buses in the city to cater to disabled and elderly voters. In the suburbs, around 100 buses will arrange transport for them. Over and above this, 360 and 1,200 taxis each in city and suburbs will help in arranging transport for such voters on behalf of the election commission,” Mukadam said. 

Source: Times of India

Friday, May 17, 2019

Two months after ‘opening’, Basant Lok market still a patchwork of repairs

Ms. Vibha Sharma | TNN  | May 16, 2019

NEW DELHI: The revamped Basant Lok Market in south Delhi was inaugurated on March 5. And yet, there is hardly a sense of things being all right there. The parking area is yet to be tiled, the two entrances opposite Munirka Marg haven’t been refurbished, the lanes at the back aren’t finished and neither the installing of the tensile umbrella at the open amphitheatre and the fire hydrants nor the construction of the toilet block have been done.

Five days before the model code of conduct kicked in after the announcement of the general elections two months ago, Union minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri had inaugurated the so-called restored market. The shop owners today claim that progress on the project slowed down after that, leaving over 25% of the planned work pending.

The revamp work began in September 2018 and Delhi Development Authority was to have finished the project by March 2019. “DDA did construct an amphitheatre, reorganised the public spaces and put in tree guards and steel benches, while also providing pedestrian connectivity with Vasant Vihar metro station,” a shop owner said, requesting anonymity. “But the internal lanes next to the PVR complex remain dug up. Likewise, the water tank hasn’t been done nor the surfacing of the parking lot near Munirka Marg.”

Traders also alleged compromises in the quality of work and the non-inclusion of features such as disabled-friendly aids. “The tactile paving and the granite stones have already started eroding, and the construction debris still lying around, giving the market a shoddy look,” grumbled a trader.

A DDA official refuted the allegations. “It’s not true that the pace of work slowed down after the inauguration. In fact, we are making all effort to ensure quality of construction,” he said. “It will take us 3-4 months more to take care of the pending work.  The tensile umbrella, for instance, is 14 metres high and heavy and needs a proper base. That’s why we had to conduct a soil test before its designing and fabrication.”

The official also claimed to have earmarked space for vendors relocated from the main pathways and provided water connection from the tank to the hydrants. “The market, once revamped, will be the first fire-compliant commercial complex in Delhi,” he said.

The official also said that provisions for ramps were made at three places in market after inviting an NGO for to give suggestions for making the market place disabled-friendly. Svayam, the NGO working for uplift of persons with disabilities, however, isn’t happy. Its director Subhash Chandra Vashishth said, “Contrary to its plan for ramps at eight of the 10 entrances, we saw ramps only a couple of locations when we visited the market in March. Also, the verandah outside shops is uneven and could hamper movement of the disabled.”

Vashishth added that Svayam filed complaints about the “irregularities in the project plan” with minister Puri, lieutenant governor Anil Baijal and the chief commissioner for persons with disability. “The court has also taken cognizance of the matter and issued a show cause notice to DDA,” said Vashishth.

The market, constructed in the 1970s, was a popular shopping complex but lost out to the multiplexes and malls that came up in its vicinity. Neglected maintenance and decaying infrastructure led outlets of major brands to down shutters and migrate to the malls at Vasant Kunj and Saket. “In 2008, a newly formed traders’association took up the matter of the market’s restoration problems to the lieutenant governor, and finally Rs 10 crore was allocation for the project,” a shopkeeper disclosed.

Source: Times of India 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

In Delhi, making elections accessible for the differently-abled

Ms. Vangmayi Parakala | The Hindu | May 10, 2019 

On voting day on Sunday, Svayam offers mobility solutions to the disabled across the city. 

“The fight is tight. Each vote matters,” says Sminu Jindal, reiterating the messaging we’ve all heard many times almost every election season. But this year, she’s attempted to follow through on this. Her organisation, Svayam, has partnered with NGOs in Delhi’s South, West, and South-West constituencies to ensure that people with mobility problems aren’t hindered from exercising their franchise.

Access for all
“Accessibility isn’t and shouldn’t be a concern only for disability rights activists,” Jindal stresses adding that you needn’t be elderly or disabled to benefit from better thought-out public transportation and spaces: you can be a young athlete who’s injured and on a wheelchair, or you can be in the last trimester of your pregnancy.

Polling is usually held in government buildings like the local municipal school, meaning that by law, these will be accessible spaces, with at least the basic provision of ramps. The problem though, is in getting to these booths.

Through its partner organisations, Svayam has deputed wheelchair-friendly vans that will shuttle people to and from their voting booths, should they need them. In 2017, the organisation had already donated 10 such vans to different NGOs across the country. Of these, four vans have stayed in the city, with Astha, Muskaan, Family of Disabled, and Yes We Can. This year, they’ve added two new vans to this existing entourage, also working with the Election Commission of India to ensure that booths have what the polling body calls “Assured Minimum Facilities.”

Key partnership
After surviving a crash that left her paralysed from the wasit down when she was 11 years old, Jindal has been an active advocate for accessibility. She calls the government Svayam’s “most important partner,” recalling a two-decade-old association through which they’ve partnered and consulted on projects. This includes regular audits, training, and design interventions at various sites.

Starting 2006, they worked with the Archaeological Survey of India to make heritage sites like the Qutub Minar, Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal friendly for tourists with reduced mobility. Later, they were a part of the core committee set up to harmonise construction standards for the elderly and disabled. Today, they routinely conduct sensitisation and training sessions with staff at the Delhi International Airport Limited.

But it was in June 2018 that the Election Commission of India invited Svayam to be a partner on the National Consultation on Accessible Elections, stating that this “will pave the way for evolving the National Policy document on Inclusion of PwDs [Persons with Disabilities] in Electoral Process.” Svayam specifically made 20 recommendations at this meet, including the need to allow service animals and guide dogs to enter booths.

“The ECI has been very positive this time. The only major challenge is to standardise these guidelines across the country,” says Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director of Svayam, adding that close to 13 pointers in their recommendations have been accepted and implemented this year.

Source: The Hindu