To a person with disability, the Constitution of India guarantees that “the state shall offer relief and help to the disabled” (Entry 9 of List II of Seventh Schedule). Article 41 of the Constitution prescribes that “the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provisions for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of disablement”.

Recent years have witnessed growing awareness and several significant landmarks in dealing with the disabled both at the national and international levels. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP) declared 1993 to 2002 as the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons. In response, the Indian Parliament, guided by the philosophy of empowering persons with disabilities and their associates, enacted in the year 1995, The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

CAG looks into Central government programmes

In a recent report, the Supreme Audit Institution of India – Comptroller and Auditors General – undertook an audit review to “examine the efficiency, economy and effectiveness of various programmes for empowerment of the disabled with reference to the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995”.

After scrutinizing the accounts of the programmes related to the period 1998-’99 to 2002-’03, the CAG arrived at a conclusion that “the Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act, 1995 is being poorly implemented although eight years have elapsed after its enactment. Adequate measures, as envisaged under the Act, had not been taken for prevention of disabilities through early detection, awareness campaigns and training of staff of Primary Health Centres. The development of educational infrastructure for the disabled, research for new assistive devices and specialised training of teachers remained weak areas. The pace of identification of posts in State Government establishment, which could be reserved for Persons with Disability (PWD), was slow. Special Employment Exchanges could provide placement to only one per cent PWD registered in the live register each year between 1998 and 2000. The Government failed to ensure three per cent reservation of PWD in poverty alleviation schemes, thus depriving them of the opportunity of economic rehabilitation.”

Does the government have reliable data?

Until the Census and NSSO reports were released this year, the Central government has not had updated and reliable data on the disabled in India.

2001 Census report, August 2004

For the effective delivery of rehabilitation services, it is necessary to have a reasonably accurate idea of the number and type of disabilities. The CAG noted with shock that no accurate information was available with Ministry on the prevalence, degrees and kind of disabilities and states in bold letters, “the Ministry did not possess any reliable data on the numbers and categories of disabled in the country, which was essential to estimate the resource requirements and facilitate the preparation of a well-considered action plan.”

The most recent Census of India (2001) had included disability in its purview, but reports have been released only in August 2004. The National Sample Survey Organisation had also conducted a survey on disability in its 58th round (January – December 2002) and a detailed report became available only in April 2004. The CAG audited government accounts for the period until March 31, 2003 and waited for responses to audit queries and observations until December 2003, when neither the Census data nor the NSSO survey reports were available. The only data available to the CAG (and the government) was the 1991 NSSO's survey which put the number of disabled at 1.61 crore persons, or 1.9 percent. (1 crore = 10 millions)

The recent Census report points to a disability percentage of 2.13% putting the number of PWDs at 2.19 crore. The April NSSO report puts the number of PWDs lower, at 1.85 crore. Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Jayant Kumar Banthia believes that Census 2001 results are more precise as the NSSO figures are only a rough estimate.

Inter-ministerial coordination broken

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment allocated Rs.1074.49 crores towards programmes for the empowerment of the disabled during the period 1998-’99 to 2002-’03. During the period, the expenditure incurred by the Ministry was Rs.1041.63 crores. However, when asked how much public funds have other ministries/departments allocated and spent on programmes for the disabled, the audit query drew a blank from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, despite it being the nodal agency.

In December 2003, the Ministry sought to offer a statement saying, “the office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) had been asked to collect information on the budgetary provisions made and expenditure incurred by other Ministries/Departments and Institutions under the Government of India”. However, CAG puts this claim in a context that suggests almost a stalemate sort of situation for six full months between Ministries and CCPD, stating “the CCPD had earlier (June 2003) stated that he had requested the concerned Ministries/Departments for the information but it was not forthcoming.”

Performance Appraisal on the "Empowerment of the Disabled", 2004; A CAG report on the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Click here for the report.