In a major victory favouring Persons with Disabilities, the union government has decided against amending the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016 after its move came under deep criticism.
In a letter dated June 2020 Dr. K.V. S. Rao, Director, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, wrote a letter to seven select NGOs/DPOs inviting their observations/suggestions/comments on the proposed amendments to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016(RPwD). The BJP-led union government proposed altering the offences/penal provisions contained under Sections 89, 92, and 93 of the RPwD Act to decriminalize minor offences. These amendments were proposed in order to improve business sentiments and unclogging court processes.
This move can be traced back to the proposal of the finance ministry on dated 10th June 2020 to decriminalize minor offences, including those relating to cheque bounce and repayment of loans. Decriminalization of minor offences in 19 economic legislations, as proposed by the finance ministry, is expected to provide relief for business enterprises reeling under the impact of COVID-19 thereby improve ease of doing business and reduce burden.
Under the plea of decriminalizing “minor offences” the government planned to drastically alter the very nature of the RPwD Act. The government stated that such provisions “act as deterrents and this is perceived as one of the major reasons impacting investments from both domestic and foreign investors”. Every investor, foreign or Indian has to comply with the law of the land where they are setting up businesses, and legislations are not amended to suit their interests.
The proposed amendments were aimed to remove the authority of the RPwD Act and to ensure its compliance. As per the proposal of the government, it was to compound offences before the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities or the State Commissioner leading to the “discharge” of an offender “if in custody”. These pertain to Sec. 89 (punishment for contravention of provisions of Act or rules or regulations made thereunder); Section 92 (a) (Whosever, intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a person with disability in any place within public view) and Sec. 93 (punishment for failure to furnish information).
Ease of doing business or providing an investor-friendly climate cannot be at the cost of depriving and negating hard-won rights of the marginalized. Unfortunately, for the government, the interests of business take precedence over the interests of the people.
If implemented properly, penal provisions for contravening the provisions of law are not a “deterrent” but ensures that the laws are complied with. Indeed, in the long run, they are enabling and contribute to the creation of a more inclusive environment. More importantly, there is very little data on cases registered under the concerned provisions of the RPwD Act and penalties that were imposed.
Persons with Disabilities and disability rights activists vociferously protested this decision of the government which failed to provide any data to back its decision. The disability sector was amused by the flimsy excuses put forth to defend this proposed amendment. With the Coronavirus pandemic around, Persons with Disabilities couldn’t get on to the streets to protest. In a joint statement, over 200 disability rights organizations, civil society organizations, and activists unequivocally registered their strong protest against the proposal to “dilute and nullify” penal provisions contained in the RPwD Act,2016. Protests were also organized locally against this amendment.
The DEPwD on Thursday said that during its consultation processes, it received feedback from various stakeholders, the majority of whom opined that the existing provisions of the RPwD Act, 2016 are appropriate safeguards for PwDs and were essential for the effective implementation of the act. “They were of the view that compounding of offences would dilute the spirit of the said act for protecting and preserving the rights of persons with disabilities,” the DEPwD said in its statement.
“Keeping in view the overall sentiments of the majority of stakeholders, the department is now of the considered view, that going ahead with the proposed amendment for compounding of offences may not be in the interest of persons with disabilities,” it said through its statement. Therefore, it has been decided that there is sufficient ground to close the consultation process and not to pursue the proposed amendment to the RPwD Act, 2016. This is indeed a victory to the Persons With Disability in their struggle for equality. Ultimately, the government had to buckle under the people’s pressure and had to reverse its regressive decision to amend the RPD Act.