By Shambhavi Saxena:
The Modi-government’s Union Budget for the financial year 2015-16 has come under sharp criticism for being a “pro-corporate” (Sonia Gandhi) exercise in “dhanwapasi” (Jairam Ramesh), and for neglecting the common Indian in favour of the profit-driven industry. However, there is at least one section of society which can look upon the allocations positively.
The dire need for infrastructure to grant mobility to the differently abled has been a long standing concern since the Bureau of Indian Standard came out with a recommendation in 1987 on the same. When it comes to infrastructure, India remains unfit for its 21 million or more disabled citizens (Census 2001). Jasmine Luthra, a legislative assistant to a member of the Indian parliament articulates the problem perfectly in an article titled “Right to be Disabled?”
“Instead of working towards creating a conducive environment, the society creates degrees of separation for disabled and subjects them to various forms of discrimination. This sort of discrimination is termed as ‘abelism’ and “an ‘ableist society’ is defined as one that treats non-disabled individuals as standard of ‘normal living’. As a result, public and private places, services, education, etc. are built to serve ‘standard people’, thereby inherently excluding those with disability.”
Many thus look forward to the Union Budget every year, in the hopes that it will finally commit to infrastructure to realize the inclusive and equal-opportunities that the society promised to each Indian in the Constitution.
Hence, it is worth examining this year’s Budget with that of the previous few fiscal years’, as there appears to be a gradual move towards that reality of inclusivity. Under the UPA government, allocations to the Department of Disability Affairs rose from 75 crore in 2012-13 to Rs 110 crore in 2013-14. The NDA government in 2014 announced the revival of 10 existing Braille presses, establishing of 15 new ones, and schemes for disabled persons. And now, 2015 sees a better push for infrastructure for the differently abled.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced an allocation of 120 crore for lifts and escalators to increase mobility, but it also serves in the interest of ‘non-standard people’, to use Luthra’s phrase.
A Public Interest Litigation hearing, with a panel composed of Justices Abhay Oka and Anil Menon, on 26th February, made provisions for “disable-friendly amenities at all suburban stations in Mumbai. These include ramps and also low height booking windows and drinking water facilities”, and the Central and Western railways are being held to a time frame for the completion of these works.
Further, hope is bolstered by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, receiving an allocation of over Rs 7,000 crore and a hike of nearly Rs 1,200 crore, while the Department of Disability Affairs has received a hike of nearly Rs 200 crore.
The deduction for expenditure for medical treatment including nursing has risen from Rs 50,000 (disability) and Rs 100,000 (severe disability) to Rs 75,000 and Rs 125,000. Reuters reported “additional income tax deduction of 25,000 rupees for the disabled.”
On the whole, it does look hopeful. What remains to be seen, of course, is the speedy and efficient implementation and maintenance.