VINITA DESHMUKH | 04/12/2013 11:49 AM , Moneylife.com
While 3rd December is commemorated as World Disability Day, how many know that RTI could empower the disabled to know about various welfare schemes, grants, concessions and scholarships they are entitled to?
While the Right to Information (RTI) Act is being used as a powerful tool by many of us, there do not seem to be even a handful that uses it to empower persons with disabilities(PWD).
Mysore-based social activist Siddaraju who is associated with the National Federation of the Blind has been steering various campaigns by invoking RTI Act in his fight for justice of disabled people, particularly children. One of his campaigns led to the Mysore Police Commissioner reserving 10 parking spaces for the disabled. Bangalore-based Sakshi Trust has a handbook to guide the PWD to invoke the RTI Act.
The Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India is the official who is in charge of the rights, welfare schemes and scholarships for the PWD. As per its website, “The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, enlists facilities that persons with different types of disabilities would be entitled to; and the responsibilities and obligations which are placed on the Government of India, state governments, local bodies and establishments in this behalf. It broadly includes measures for prevention and early detection of disabilities, education, employment, social security, research and manpower development, barrier-free access and preferences and facilities that are available to such persons and the action which needs to be taken to avoid any discrimination against persons with disabilities.”
The RTI Act can be used to find out various schemes and scholarships applicable to the PWDs, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as well as at the state and municipal corporation levels. The RTI Act has provided assistance from the public information officer for a person who is sensorily disabled. Sec 7(4) states: “Where access to the record or a part thereof is required to be provided under this Act and the person to whom access is to be provided is sensorily disabled, the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, shall provide assistance to enable access to the information, including providing such assistance as may be appropriate for the inspection.’’
Anita Iyer, founder trustee of Ekansh Trust based in Pune, states that the main issues of concern are, “lack of education opportunities both at the primary and higher levels; lack of livelihood and employment opportunities; lack of physical access in buildings and; denial of access to most civil and political rights. This is because PWD are not seen as a powerful vote bank. Hence, they are marginalised and sidelined by the society. They should be made aware of the power of the RTI Act so that the government machinery would give more attention to the rights of the PWD under various schemes. More and more RTI activists and NGOs should come forward to help them in filing RTI.’’
The Office of the Chief Commissioner for PWD has provided an information handbook on the RTI Act 2005, on its website.
It states that:
• this Information Handbook has been prepared in pursuance of Section 4 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act, 2005) to provide information in respect of powers, duties and functions of the Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (Office of the CCPD) set up under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PwD Act)
• to provide access to information under the control of Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities and to promote transparency and accountability in the working.
• To provide maximum information suo motu or sources thereof so that people have minimum resort to use of the RTI Act.
• This handbook is useful for the persons with disabilities, their guardians, Voluntary Organisations and individuals working in the field of disability and Central/State Government Organisations.
Bangalore based Sakshi Trust in association with ActionAid India has developed a guide for the PWDs to invoke the RTI Act. It includes “a step wise guide to drafting RTI applications and provides a useful tool to seek information by anyone concerned, an NGO, or even parents. The context of the RTI applications and interventions in this book are made from the perspective of specific issue that a citizen/ disabled person maybe concerned about.’’
The issues the book has addressed through sample RTI application forms pertain to:
• Getting a Disability Certificate
• Getting an allocation in Poverty Alleviation Schemes
• Ensuring barrier free access in Public spaces and offices
• Access to education and related services for PWDs
• Employment opportunities for the disabled
• Getting Assistive Devices
• Ensuring complaint is heard by the Commissioner for PWDs
For each of these issues, the guide book contains model RTI application have beendeveloped that can help you solve the problem. For more information, visit: www.sakshitrust.org.
The guide book states the general reasons for the raw deal that PWDs get in our country:
(a) Lack of awareness and negative attitudes towards people with disability. Very oftenpeople with disability are seen as sick persons who need care and comfort
(b) No tradition of / or facilitation for people with disability forming political interest groups at various political levels
(c) Lack of awareness about the governmental administrative structures and how, they can be used by NGOs and people with disability in particular
(d) People employed in the Office of the Commissioner of disability themselves are not well versed in disability issues
(e) State Coordination Committees and State Executive Committees (as specified in the Disability Act of 95) are not yet set up in all states
(f) The strengthening of the disability movement is sorely required
(g) Only a few people with disability are represented in the administrative bodies set up by the Government
(h) Lack of platforms where people with disability represented in governmental committees can share experience with other disability groups, get support, advice and gather information about disability issues
The book states that, “Despite of the shortcomings and challenges stated, the PWD Act (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995: remains a unique opportunity to establish linkages between the administrative bodies and people with disability regarding political issues as well as rehabilitation.’’
The prolific use of RTI Act can further strengthen and make the PWD Act more meaningful and relevant.