In India it isn’t the disability of the people that is of concern but rather the disability of the law that is concerning. We as a country may have recognised that people with disabilities live around us but have hardly given the due recognition and aid that is needed to them. Despite having challenges in everyday life that is prominently evident, we fall far behind in providing them with the requisite structure or with the adequate law to safeguard their rights and help them to live a life with lesser hurdles than the already existing ones.
Not sidelining the commendable work that has been done for them by the government and other agencies in the recent years, this paper aims at outlining the problems existing and the steps that could help in eliminating them.
In everyday diction, the word “disability” is associated with someone that is unable to do activities, either physical or mental, that is expected of a normal person. This inability may be with what a person is born with or it may have occurred to them due to an accident.
According to the World Health Organization, disability has three dimensions :
Impairment in a person’s body structure or function, or mental functioning; examples of impairments include loss of a limb, loss of vision or memory loss.
Activity limitation, such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking, or problem solving.
Participation restrictions in normal daily activities, such as working, engaging in social and recreational activities, and obtaining health care and preventive services.
Earlier, the only recognised form of disability was of physical nature but as society has progressed, we have now extended the term to mental disabilities too which were earlier viewed as symptoms of a person turning into a lunatic. Today, people have been educated about it being a mental disability and accordingly the acceptance has increased. However that does not necessarily mean that the outlook of people or the legal system has undergone a change. The people who are disabled arte still shunned by the society and repeatedly have to fight a long battle to get their basic rights guaranteed.
LEGISLATIONS RELATED TO DISABILITIES:
The Constitution of India guarantees equality and freedom to every citizen of India which is inclusive of people with disabilities. India was one of the first signatories of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of people with Disabilities.
The Constitution of India also guarantees that no disabled person can be compelled to pay any taxes for the promotion and maintenance of any particular religion or religious group and that a disabled person cannot be deprived of the right to the language, script or culture to which they belong. In addition, every disabled person can move the Supreme Court of India to enforce their fundamental rights and the rights to move the Supreme Court is itself guaranteed by Article 32.
DISABLED AND THE INCOME TAX CONCESSIONS:
The Income Tax Act, 1961 has provided the following exceptions:
Section 80 DD: Section 80 DD provides for a deduction in respect of the expenditure incurred by an individual or Hindu Undivided Family resident in India on the medical treatment (including nursing) training and rehabilitation etc. of handicapped dependants. For officiating the increased cost of such maintenance, the limit of the deduction has been raised from Rs.12000/- to Rs.20000/-.
Section 80 V:A new section 80V has been introduced to ensure that the parent in whose hands income of a permanently disabled minor has been clubbed under Section 64 is allowed to claim a deduction up to Rs.20000/- in terms of Section 80 V.
Section 88B: This section provides for an additional rebate from the net tax payable by a resident individual who has attained the age of 65 years. It has been amended to increase the rebate from 10% to 20% in the cases where the gross total income does not exceed Rs.75000/- (as against a limit of Rs.50000/- specified earlier).
Part 41 of the Directive Principles of State Policy states that:
“The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.”
The first Legislation that was exclusively introduced with the objective of aiding the disabled was the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 which came into force on February 7th, 1996. This Act gave recognition to only 7 types of disabilities. This act provide rehabilitation measures such as education and employment opportunities as well as suggested measures such as unemployment allowance and insurance schemes for the disabled to provide them with a financial stability. In cases where they were either abandoned or their families were unable to look after them, it also encouraged the setting up of special homes to take care of such disabled people.
It also encouraged reserving 3% of the job vacancies in government sectors for the people with disabilities as a measure to increase the rate of employment among the community. Additionally, one of the most important recommendations was that the government buildings and transportation should be modified to become accessible to the disabled. These are the recommendations on paper, the ground reality still stands that at this date, and there are only a handful of buildings that are equipped with facilities for the disabled. The unemployment rate of the community has also not seen a prominent change.
Although our legislations have agreed to provide a life of dignity for our fellow countrymen crippled with disability, we the countrymen have hardly done the needful to bring this legislation to life.
After much pressure and discussion it was later repealed by the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 which later recognized 21 disabilities including Down syndrome, acid attack and Cerebral palsy among others. It also provided to set up speedy trials in fast track courts for offences committed against the disabled people.
Although undeniably this act has made it easier to access the law for the disabled yet the ground reality is quite different as the implementation is yet to take place in a systematic manner. One of the main reasons for this delay is that while both the acts provide for guidelines on what should be done by the government and the society to aid the disabled, no deadlines have been set to ensure that the proper measures are taken up at the immediate instant. Owing to this lacunae, and taking advantage of this the government has kept delaying a matter that otherwise should have been addressed with rapid and planned actions.
The Mental Health Act of 1987 was the first initiative taken by the Government of India to address the status of the mentally disabled. In doing so, it gave a progressive definition of mentally ill patients and also included provisions for these patients to be admitted voluntarily or by their guardian to a facility which ensures that proper treatment is given too such patients.
Despite this, the act was heavily criticized because it mainly focused on the hospitalization of patients and did not include other forms of mental illnesses that were curable with therapy that did not require a patient to be admitted to a hospital.
The next act that aimed at dealing with this subject was The National Trust for Welfare of persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation, and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1995. This act was a leap for the governmental policies as it suggested the setting up of a trust to regulate the affairs of the disabled and it also included several other disabilities in its ambit.
The Indian Government then ratified the United Nations Convention for Persons with Disabilities (UNCPrD), 2006 and this initiated a series of reforms regarding the existing mental health laws in India. This also prompted the government to pass the Mental Health Act, 2017 which was a progressive and centered on the patients. It aimed at providing the optimum care for the mentally disabled and helps them in managing their illnesses so that they could participate in the society.
While all of this would look extremely impressive on paper, the implementation if it is still a farfetched dream, India has one of the weakest mental health care systems with scarce resources and doctors combined with people’s unwillingness to ask for help making it a lot harder. Often, people refuse to seek for help because of the societal stigma that is associated with it and the delay in seeking help worsens the situation of the person which could have been otherwise, easily managed only if help were to be provided at the correct time.
A law drafted and kept on paper serves no use to the citizens unless and until it does not become a tool of utility at the hands of every citizen. Likewise, although the laws drafted are precise and complete they fail to fulfill their purpose.
The difficulties of the society as a whole owing to CoVid - 19 are uncountable ranging from social, economical to domestic it has created a havoc in the society of a such a magnitude that the after effects of it might last a lifetime. Bringing along with it was the isolation that every person had to go through, this was particularly hard on the disabled as their caretakers were not available and their regular outdoor activities which were recommended to them for their wellbeing was restricted. Even though free help line numbers were promoted so that people could speak up and seek help at the right time, no form of physical help or support system existed. While it must have surely served its purpose, the disabled who are unable to communicate their difficulties are still left behind. What was required was a health care system that could cater to their needs not only in teleconsultation system but in a physical form as well.
At a time when every person is dealing with uncertainties of every nature , the mentally disabled only have it worse, What is truly required as an aftermath of this crisis, is not only legislations that provide guidelines but organizations that take up actions and ensure what is on paper is also remodeled out in everyday life.
The major drawback of us as a society lies in two things, the implementation and the societal outlook. Only when these two things are regularized, will the adequate help reach those that desperately need it.
Societal outlook can be positively altered through education and through small campaigns aimed at highlighting the difficulties faced by the disabled and how minor changes in our attitude could change the existing scenario. Help can also be advanced through measures that are taken in consultation with the patients and their care givers who can give a firsthand review of how the legislations can affect them and how society would impact it.
Secondly, as good as the legislations are on paper more sincere effprt should be given to ensure that the measures mentioned are taken in a planned manner so as to ensure their effectiveness helps the people in need. The law has not remedied the wrongful act until it has reached the needy in the desired way. The work which was expected from the government has been done, the outline of the road ahead has been laid, all that remains is to build the road.
We, as a society have come a long way from the times where people with disabilities were frowned upon and thought to have been given the disability because of their sins in the past life. We now accept them as one of our own but sympathy alone is not what will change their lives for the better, it is the dedicated work and inclusivity that will change their world. After all, there is no greater disability than the society that is unable to provide recognition to every deserving person irrespective of their flaws. We rise only by rising others, by being fair and providing a chance at a better life for one and all.
Name: Reshmita Dey
Designation: Xth semester, B.A.LL.B
College: Bangalore Institute of Legal Studies, Bengaluru