A world apart
On the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we look at their legal rights relating to financial matters.
The article by Meera Siva was published in the Hindu Businessline on November 27, 2016.
Be it the right to education, rights in the work place, legal entitlements or fair compensation, people with disabilities are often left holding the short end of the stick. Sometimes, there are no specific rules or policies as in the case of providing insurance coverage. But more often, even though guidelines are laid out, they remain only in theory.
Take the case of Nagarjuna Akula, a Chartered Accountant working in a public sector company in Maharashtra. “I applied for a home loan in 2014 and it was approved. They wanted me to take a standard insurance with a one-time premium of about ₹38,000. But it was rejected by SBI Life Insurance. I did not protest this issue, but often think about the repercussions to the family in the long term, in case of an eventuality,” he says.
Akula also had to battle to get special conveyance allowance given to disabled people. “I have been working here for nearly four years but was not given the higher rate of conveyance allowance. The reason given was that I do not require physical assistance,” he says. The issue is finally sorted out now, but he lost the allowance for earlier periods.
Akula says that in some cases rules may need to be changed to accommodate persons with disabilities. “The CA Institute exempts members with disabilities from meeting continuing education credit requirements. But I wish the ICWA Institute would also consider the issue, as classes may be held in higher floors without lift facility in some places,” he says. He notes, happily, that the Institute heeded his request to give additional time during exams for persons with disability.
Compensation, an uphill battle
Fighting cases in courts, not easy for anyone, is particularly daunting for those with disabilities. And often, due to lack of rules, they end up having to fight long legal battles to get any form of compensation to cover their huge medical expenses. Ketna Mehta, Management editor, educationalist and Founder Trustee of Nina Foundation, Mumbai, gives many examples. “Many spinal injuries happen due to accidents. One young person we helped was having food after college at a small eatery under a tree. The tree branch broke and hit his head and he suffered spinal cord injury. There is no way for the victim to get any payment from the Brihanmumbai Metropolitan Corporation for the surgery and rehabilitation,” she laments.
Likewise with Martin Tharail, a 25-year old from Kerala who worked at a BPO in Mumbai. He met with a bike accident and become a quadriplegic; his parents were retired and the family was unable to get the ₹15-20 lakh compensation from the truck owner. “The case is still pending, though he is no more,” says Mehta. She also narrates the woes of a 26-year old paraplegic girl who lost her parents and lives with her younger brother who is in college. She is fighting a court battle to inherit her parent’s property. “She goes to the court for the hearings with support from our volunteers. There are no proper wash-rooms for the disabled and it costs money to make travel arrangements, get a helper to be with her in the court,” says Mehta.
The state of women with disability needs special attention as they suffer from discrimination due to three reasons — gender, disability and poverty. Abha Khetarpal, President, Cross the Hurdles, a non-profit that works for rights of persons with disabilities, notes that most Indians consider disability as “karma of past life.” She says that women with disabilities need provisions with regard
to their rights over their own bodies. “They are at much greater risk of violence, often by their caregivers; provisions are needed to ensure ways to seek redressal without fear,” she says.
“Sometimes women are cheated in marriages — an already married man marries a woman with disability. He abandons her due to fear of punishment for bigamy and adultery when the truth comes to light,” she explains. Since the second marriage is considered null and void by law, the woman is left all alone and faces society’s stigma; she has to survive without much support. Khetarpal suggests that the law should consider the whole scenario before giving any judgement.
Mehta notes that persons with disabilities, mainly women, are divorced after an accident that leads to a permanent disability. “The reason is not stated explicitly and the disabled person often accepts the fate without fighting. The sad part is that they are not given fair financial compensation, given the extra expenses they have to incur throughout their life,” she notes.
Initiatives such as the “Accessible India” campaign do not deliver impactful results. The “Persons with Disability Act” of 1995 does not have punitive measures if there is failure in compliance. The National Trust Act of 1999 and The Mental Health Act of 1987 have not been able to bring about meaningful sensitisation. A new Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill has been pending for many years now.
A study conducted by the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a Bengaluru based non-profit think tank, found that 97 per cent of over 5,800 government websites tested have at least one known accessibility issue and can be said to be inaccessible. Government schemes, even when they exist, are for name-sake only, says Mehta. “The government provides a disability pension of ₹800 per month, which is not given in a timely way. In Mumbai, what can you cover with this amount?” she asks.
Mehta suggests that there must be a separate department to handle all aspects — education, scholarship, loans, insurance and availing benefits — rather than having to run helter-skelter to many departments. “There must be one agency and one file for a person with disability,” she insists. Also, the disabled are not aware of what they are entitled to. “Why not give information in a simple format when someone gets a disability certificate?” she suggests.