Steps to a Progressive Society
The Indian Parliament passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) Act – 2016 on December 16, 2016, replacing the 21-year-old PwD Act 1995. It was a transformative legislation that defines disability based on an evolving concept and addresses the plight of this marginalised section of society. The salient features of the Act include increase of disabilities types from seven to 21 with a window to expand by providing the government the authority to notify any other category of specified disability, relaxation of upper age limit to access primary and higher education, raising job reservation in government establishments from 3% to 4% for certain persons with benchmark disability, penalties for offences committed against persons with disabilities and violation of the provisions of the new law, and Special Courts to be designated in each district to handle cases concerning violation of rights of PwDs, among others. The Act also cast the state governments the responsibility to take measures to ensure that the persons with disabilities are treated equally and enjoy the same rights as the rest of the citizens. This legislation was a huge leap towards building a society where everyone enjoys equal rights.
Almost three years after the Parliament passed the Act, the government of Nagaland has taken a commendable step towards ensuring better access to justice for PwDs. The state government recently designated the Sessions Court in each district of the state as Special Court (one of the provisions mentioned in the Act) to provide speedy trial for offences committed against PwDs. According to the notification, all the public prosecutors, additional public prosecutors and assistant public prosecutors in Nagaland have been designated as special prosecutor for the purpose of conducting cases in these Special Courts. Those who commit offence against PwDs, violate the provisions of the law and fraudulently avails or attempts to avail any benefit meant for persons with benchmark disabilities are punishable with imprisonment for a term of up to five years and a fine of INR 5 lakh, or both based on the offence committed.
It is a welcoming move from the state government not only for the persons with disabilities but for the society as a whole, as they have every right to live a respectable and secure life. However, it is reported that Nagaland is yet to implement 4% job reservation for PwDs which is enshrined in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act – 2016. It is said the state government is in the process of implementing this provision, for which an expert committee has been reportedly set up to identify the post reservation for PwDs and, the government departments have been asked to identify by November 8 this year. The government has already announced through a notification issued in August, 2019 that the prescribed percentage of job reservation for persons with benchmark disabilities would be implemented with immediate effect. But notification is just a notification until it is enforced and benefits the rightful persons. A government can frame policies but its execution can be delayed if its functionaries do not perform their duties. The expert committee that is supposed to look into this issue and the concerned departments should now identify the posts and ensure that the provision is implemented at the earliest. It is not only about rights today, as persons with disability can undertake tasks as efficiently, if not better, as anybody with new technologies at our disposal. We need their contribution to build a progressive society.