A bill stipulating up to two- year jail term and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against differently-abled persons was passed by the Rajya Sabha Wednesday. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, which aims at securing and enhancing the rights and entitlements of disabled persons, was passed by a voice vote after rare unanimity was witnessed among the Opposition and Treasury benches in the House, which has seen acrimony and disruptions since the Winter Session began on November 16.
The bill, which was moved in Upper House earlier this month by Social Justice Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, also gives effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and related matters. It provides for imprisonment of at least six months up to two years, along with a fine ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against differently-abled persons.
When the House met in the morning and took up the Zero Hour, members from the Opposition benches including Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, BSP chief Mayawati, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and SP leader Naresh Agarwal, pitching for immediate passage of the “crucial” legislation.
Responding to them, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the measure could be taken up immediately. With rare unanimity on display, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien agreed to take up a short debate on the legislation before its passage, though he first said the matter was listed in the agenda in the afternoon and could be taken up then.
When the Bill, which had 120 amendments, was being passed in the afternoon, Anand Sharma (Cong) raised the issue regarding the numbering of the clauses, to which Gehlot assured that the issue will be looked into. Yechury (CPI-M) raised the issue of who will be the authority to interpret the definition of disability, whether physical or mental. “There is disability such as speech and language and intellectual capability as mentioned in the bill. Who is the authority to define it,” he asked.
S C Mishra (BSP) too raised the same query. In his response, Minister Gehlot said a Medical Board will be formed which will define disability. Viplove Thakur (Cong) raised the issue of disability pension not being provided to persons below 18 years of age, to which the Minister said this was not provided in the laws. Rapolu Ananda Bhaskar (Cong) said that a comprehensive bill needs to be worked out due to the large number of amendments. Madhusudan Mistry (also Cong) enquired whether the definition of ‘Mental Illness’ is same in the Disabilities Bill as in the Mental Health Bill, which was passed recently. Gehlot said the definition is based on the United Nations Convention.
After the Bill was passed, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien congratulated the members for their cooperation. “I congratulate every member. Why can’t this cooperation be there always? Let us proceed like this,” he noted, apparently indicating the turmoil that has been prevailing in the House over the demonetisation issue.
The Union Cabinet had earlier approved these amendments to the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (RPWD) Bill, 2014, that had replaced the 1995 Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act.
In the bill, disability has been defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept and the types of disabilities have been increased from existing seven to 21. The Centre will have the power to add more types of disabilities to it. The types of disabilities now include mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, chronic neurological conditions. It also strengthens the office of chief commissioner and state commissioners for Persons with Disabilities which will act as regulatory bodies.
The bill was examined by the parliamentary standing committee last year. Then, a Group of Ministers, headed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, examined its provisions and sent their recommendations to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Earlier in the day during Zero Hour, members cutting across party line demanded that the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014 be passed without discussion. Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said priority should be given to the passage of the Bill. “This should be passed without any discussion.” He said if the Bill is not passed today, it cannot be taken up by the Lok Sabha for passage in the current session ending Friday. “You can take it up right now (and) pass it straight away without any discussion,” he said. Similar views were expressed by Mayawati (BSP) and Naresh Agarwal (SP).
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the bill could be taken up immediately. Initially, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said though he is happy that there is consensus in the House for passage of an important legislation, procedurally it is listed for 1400 hours and should be taken up only then. But he relented and allowed it to be advanced considering the unanimity in the House.
Gehlot, who had moved the legislation last week, said it was first introduced in February 2014 and thereafter sent to the Standing Committee. Of the 82 suggestions the panel made, 59 have been incorporated in the bill, he said, adding that a number of categories of disabled has been increased from 7 to 21.
Karan Singh (Cong) said five per cent of people in the country suffered from some form of disability. The government, he said, should ensure that 4 per cent reservation provided to them is filled up also. A public education campaign should also be launched to sensitise people about the rights and courtesies to be extended to the disabled, he said.
Naresh Agrawal (SP) said the definition of disabled should be relaxed and the procedure for obtaining disability certificate be eased. He also demanded raising reservation quote for them. Md Nadimul Haque (TMC) said the government should ensure that none of the vacancies against the quota of disabilities remain vacant. C P Narayanan (CPI-M) said the amendments curtailed the rights of the disabled and unless these were corrected, the benefits will not accrue to them.