The disabled population of India, 2.68 crore as per Census 2011, seems an unhappy lot, as the Union Budget for 2017-18 has little to offer them apart from a mention of “lifts and escalators in 500 railway stations” in the Finance Minister’s Speech.
“There was neither a specific reference to persons with disabilities under the social groups nor a commitment across sectors to address the issues of discrimination experienced by persons with disabilities,” says a statement by Equals, Centre for Promotion of Social Justice, a Chennai-based organisation.
Their lament is understandable as higher allocations were expected since Parliament, in a rare instance of unanimity, had passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2014 during the Winter session in December 2016, raising the number of disabilities to 21, including acid attack and Parkinson’s disease.
As per an analysis by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), disaggregation of data, a key demand from the disability movement, has taken a hit as more and more schemes get subsumed under larger flagship programmes, creating “a gap in effective monitoring, accountability and appropriate planning.”
The demand for grants for 2017-18 for the nodal Department for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities shows only a marginal increase of ₹71.4 crore (from ₹784 crore in 2016-17 (Revised Estimate) to ₹855 crore in 2017-18 (Budget Estimate).
The budget for central sector schemes under the department has gone up slightly from ₹306 crore to ₹352 crore, while that for autonomous bodies is also marginally up from ₹231 crore to ₹239 crore over the same period. Among autonomous institutions, allocations for the National Institute of Universal Design, which ensures an accessible environment, is ₹37 lakh in 2017-18 (BE), the Indian Sign Language Institute saw an increase of ₹1.5 crore.
But, there was a decrease of ₹20 crore in allocation for the programme “Assistance to disabled persons for purchase, fitting of assistive devices” as compared to 2017-18 (BE). Also, there has been no change in the allocation for Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India, which has remained at ₹5 crore for the past three financial years, CBGA said.
With access and mobility a major concern for the disabled in India, Equals was also disappointed with no mention of the fulfilment of the commitment to provide accessible toilets in all railway stations in the previous Budget.
The allocation by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports for Promotion of Sports among Disabled is also way behind the expectations of the disability movement, said Equals, citing a measly dole of ₹0.01 crore for 2017-18 (BE), against ₹4 crore in 2016-17 (BE) and ₹2.06 crore 2015-16.
Regarding mental health, CBGA notes that while allocation for NIMHANS has increased, it remains stagnant for the National Mental Health Programme, which has a community programme component.