The Union Budget 2023 came as a disappointment to the disability sector in the country, said well-known Disability Rights activist Dr. Sruti Mohapatra.
During an analysis of the Budget for popular news media network OdishaLIVE, particularly of the allocations and provisions for Persons with Disability (PwD), Dr. Mohapatra said it was a damper to the hopes the sector had pinned on the government before the presentation on the floor of the house on February 1.
She said it was primarily on account of the fact that the allocation for the sector stood at a meager Rs 140 Crore, as against the previous year’s allocation of Rs 240 Crore. “That way there has been a reduction of Rs 90 Crore this year,” she said.
She said the paltry budgetary resource provision to the sector has rendered the complete implementation of the various provisions under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPDA) impossible. “A law can’t achieve on its own. We need an environment to function. And one of the strongest pillars for that law to function is budget,” she said.
Highlighting the financial impediments rendering the Act toothless, Dr. Mohapatra said one of the greatest focuses of the law is the Right to Access for people with disabilities. “Accessibility cannot happen with the hugely reduced budget,” she added.
Elaborating, she said accessibility holds key to the emancipation and empowerment of people with disability – from education, employment to recreation. “The RPWD Act budget must be increased substantially and exponentially to about Rs 9,000 Crore and take within its ambit senior citizens many of whom are suffering from disabilities,” she said.
Second is the issue of access to public transport which can happen only when sufficient budgetary allocation is made for buses with low floor.
Dr. Mohapatra said that the government preferred to overlook the demand for a universal healthcare coverage for the disabled which had been made following the Covid 19 pandemic. Moreover, the reimbursement amount for thalassemia patients continues to remain at Rs. 40,000 as against the Rs. 2 lakh expenses incurred by them every month towards treatment. “We can’t let people with thalassemia die just because they can’t pay the rest Rs 1.6 lakh for treatment,” she said.
The most glaring omission in the budget is the stagnation of budgetary allocations towards the National Trust and the Rehabilitation Council of India as compared to the previous year. “This is despite the fact that the two bodies constitute the two important pillars for the wellbeing of the disabled in the country,” she said, adding that the Rs 300 monthly pension for PwD ceased to witness any increase in this year’s budget.
Following the disappointment from the budgetary provisions, Dr. Mohapatra has pitched a list of demands before the government which, she said, will go a long way in the empowerment of people with disabilities.
To begin with, she said, the Prime Minister should stand to his words and bring about changes in the Income Tax Act and include more categories of PwD than the existing 7. Moreover, the scope of pensioners among PWD should cover more than the present 3.8 percent of the population while the pension amount be hiked to Rs 1500-2000.
Thirdly, import duty on vehicles used by disabled people be waved while startups and IITs manufacturing high quality but cheaper assisted devices be given substantial tax relief.
Fourthly, some budgetary provisions be made for private institutions extending extra support and privileges to PwD students, while the scholarship amount for these students should be hiked considerably.
All recreation centres and places of worship be provided funds from the Cultural Grant to enable them build facilities for comfortable access of Persons with Disabilities.
Finally, tax concessions should be given to those private companies accommodating increasing number of PWD candidates in order to motivate them.
“The PWD can lead a dignified life if these things are taken care,” said Dr. Mohapatra.