A bill stipulating up to two- year jail term and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against differently-abled persons was passed by the Rajya Sabha today.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, which aims at securing and enhancing the rights and entitlements of disabled persons, was passed by a voice vote after rare unanimity was witnessed among the Opposition and Treasury benches in the House, which has seen acrimony and disruptions since the Winter Session began on November 16.
The bill, which was moved in Upper House earlier this month by Social Justice Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, also gives effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and related matters. It provides for imprisonment of at least six months up to two years, along with a fine ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 5 lakh for discriminating against differently-abled persons.
When the House met in the morning and took up the Zero Hour, members from the Opposition benches including Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, BSP chief Mayawati, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and SP leader Naresh Agarwal, pitching for immediate passage of the “crucial” legislation.
Responding to them, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the measure could be taken up immediately. With rare unanimity on display, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien agreed to take up a short debate on the legislation before its passage, though he first said the matter was listed in the agenda in the afternoon and could be taken up then.
When the Bill, which had 120 amendments, was being passed in the afternoon, Anand Sharma (Cong) raised the issue regarding the numbering of the clauses, to which Gehlot assured that the issue will be looked into. Yechury (CPI-M) raised the issue of who will be the authority to interpret the definition of disability, whether physical or mental. “There is disability such as speech and language and intellectual capability as mentioned in the bill. Who is the authority to define it,” he asked. S C Mishra (BSP) too raised the same query.
In his response, Minister Gehlot said a Medical Board will be formed which will define disability. Viplove Thakur (Cong) raised the issue of disability pension not being provided to persons below 18 years of age, to which the Minister said this was not provided in the laws.
Rapolu Ananda Bhaskar (Cong) said that a comprehensive bill needs to be worked out due to the large number of amendments. Madhusudan Mistry (also Cong) enquired whether the definition of ‘Mental Illness’ is same in the Disabilities Bill as in the Mental Health Bill, which was passed recently. Gehlot said the definition is based on the United Nations Convention.
After the Bill was passed, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien congratulated the members for their cooperation. “I congratulate every member. Why can’t this cooperation be there always? Let us proceed like this,” he noted, apparently indicating the turmoil that has been prevailing in the House over the demonetisation issue.
The Union Cabinet had earlier approved these amendments to the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (RPWD) Bill, 2014, that had replaced the 1995 Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act. In the bill, disability has been defined based on an evolving and dynamic concept and the types of disabilities have been increased from existing seven to 21.
The Centre will have the power to add more types of disabilities to it. The types of disabilities now include mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, chronic neurological conditions. It also strengthens the office of chief commissioner and state commissioners for Persons with Disabilities which will act as regulatory bodies.
The bill was examined by the parliamentary standing committee last year. Then, a Group of Ministers, headed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, examined its provisions and sent their recommendations to the Prime Minister’s Office.
(Feature image source: Reuters)