New Delhi: The disability sector was largely overlooked in the Union budget 2021-22 as not only was the allocation for the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DePwD) reduced by over Rs 150 crore compared to the previous allocation, no sum was allocated for several key departments and schemes that cater to the needs of the Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), who constitute nearly 3% of the country’s population.
Reacting to the announcements made by Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech on Monday, Dr Satendra Singh of Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change said that India’s disabled people – who were given the moniker of ‘divyang’ or ‘divine’ by the Narendra Modi government – and mental health did not get a single mention in the two-hour-long speech.
Allocation reduced by over Rs 150 crore
“She quoted Rabindranath Tagore but forgets what he wrote in his short story Subha about women with disabilities more than 127 years ago. The state of disabled people after a pandemic needed a special compassionate response but the overall budgetary allocation for the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPD) was significantly reduced from Rs 1325.39 crore last year to Rs 1,171.77 crores this time,” Singh pointed out.
Singh said the allocations for several key schemes and institutions had also been cut down. “Despite COVID-19 creating a demand for mental health services, the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation did not receive any budgetary allocation. However, the yet to be approved National University of Rehabilitation Science and Disability Studies, which is still a bill and was criticised by the disability sector, was allocated 0.01 crore well in advance whereas there is no road map seen to implement the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016,” he said.
No allocation for Accessible India Campaign, sign language centre
As for the flagship Accessible India Campaign, Singh said, despite being launched by the Prime Minister, it has never been allocated a separate budget and money for it was pooled from the Scheme for Implementation of Persons with Disability Act (SIPDA) which too was given a reduced allocation of Rs 251 crores against Rs 209 crores in the previous budget.
Singh also noted that the DEPD’s tableau on “Indian Sign Language” at the 72nd Republic Day parade “turned out to be mere lip service as the autonomous Indian Sign Language, Research and Training Centre did not receive any budgetary allocation”. Likewise, he said, the Centre for Disability Sports allocation was reduced by a massive 47% and so were the allocations for Assistance to Disabled Persons (ADIP) scheme, in which assistance is provided to needy persons for procuring aids and appliances for their social and physical rehabilitation, and Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme for the rehabilitation of PwDs and the National Trust.
The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled issued a statement in which it strongly protested the reduction in the budgetary support to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. “This substantial reduction of nearly 12 per cent will adversely impact various schemes and programmes that are being undertaken by the department,” it said.
‘PwDs neglected in Budget’
On behalf of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), its executive director Arman Ali said PwDs have once again been “neglected” in the budget despite it stating that it was dependent on six pillars, one of them being inclusive development for aspirational India.
He said despite the sector presenting its demands, these were not even mentioned this year despite PwDs facing a lot of hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This budget was of utmost importance due to the ongoing pandemic as people have lost jobs and children have dropped out of schools because of the lack of facilities.”
Stating that the Atmanirbhar Swasthya Bharat Scheme, that speaks of strengthening primary and secondary healthcare centres, made no mention to PwDs, Ali said, “as a sector, we are all disappointed and concerned about the future of persons with disabilities in our country”.
He also noted that the saddest part was that the budget document still referred to Persons with Disabilities Act, despite India having entered into the fifth year of RPWD (Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Act 2016. “Yet, time and again, we have to remind the government about the latest laws on disability.”