Six months ago, four visually-challenged students, residents of a New Delhi-based NGO hostel for the blind, applied for disability pension. To inquire about the status of their application (reason for non-sanction of pension), they met senior authorities (Finance Assistance Department) of the Department of Social Welfare.
The students alleged misbehavior and non-cooperation by the staff as they were made to move from one department to another, but denied the information that they sought.
Misusing power of her post, the official used abusive language and instead blamed the students for their tone of speech.
The authorities went further by threatening the students with legal action. One of the sub-ordinate officials threatened the students by saying, “How dare you talk to my senior like that?” and subsequently, asked them to leave the office.
When the students demanded that the status of their pension be communicated in writing, the authorities bluntly refused to do so.
The whole matter pertains to the financial assistance due to a person with special needs. This Delhi government scheme carries a provision of Rs. 1500 per month to the Person With Disabilities (PWDs).
Delhi government recently hiked the pension of persons with disability by Rs. 1000, making it Rs. 2500 per month in the recent budget.
According to CAG Report for the year 2015, there are total 45,471 beneficiaries covered under this scheme whereas according to census 2011, the total population of PWDs in Delhi is 2,34,882.
According to the same census, only 48.74 % persons with disability have a disability certificate without which nobody is even eligible for pension. It’s a known fact that people can get their pension quite easily thanks to their local leader (MLA, MP and Counsellors of the area).
But not everyone has access to them. So, if you are a common man you might end up running from pillar to post for the pension exactly how our students ended up. In the same CAG Report it was stated that “the department lost 2.72 crore per month to ineligible persons” and department of social welfare had not conducted verification of beneficiaries under the same scheme.
In the present case, these students were denied pension under validation drive initiated by the department. They were told that as their parents are not residents of Delhi and they stay in a hostel provided by an NGO they are not eligible for the pension.
The fact remains that students living in government-run hostels are getting the pension. It’s an irony that they can vote in the elections, but are devoid of entitlement on same parameters of residence.
Despite the fact that accessibility to and coverage of the pension scheme are meager, the department is punishing the students for their own inefficiency in devising a proper mechanism of verification and validation of pension, by denying them their right.
There is no doubt that there are fraud and ineligible pensioners but the law of the land mandates that no poor should be punished even if a culprit goes unpunished.
The department should make sure that the neediest, like our students, should not suffer the brunt especially when only 35% of persons with disability are literate in Delhi.
On the one hand, the latest Right to Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (newly constituted act) states penal and capital punishment for use of abusive language by public authorities, while these PWDs were thrown out of social welfare department when they inquired about their own rights.
In this dismal scenario, execution and implementation of this new act is questionable when the department authorities are the ones not respecting the dignity of PWDs.