Among the tasks that fill most Indians with dread is the act of procuring the all-important identity and eligibility documents so dear to the Indian bureaucracy. Imagine the plight of disabled citizens for whom getting a disability certificate that officially recognises their disability and medically ranks it in percentage terms has long been a nightmarish experience.
Yet, without that certificate their identity as a disabled person, no matter how obvious and visible the disability, is not established. So, whether it is a job, admission into an educational institution or a travel concession, without such a certificate they have no access to the government welfare schemes, concessions and subsidies meant for them.
Recently, an application under the right to information (RTI) has elicited information from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment that only 38% of the disabled in the country have managed to get the precious certificate. The information under the RTI, carried by the media, says that while 40% of the disabled in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have managed to get the certificate, in Delhi the figure stands at only 22%.
States like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam and Kerala seem to be among the worst performers in this respect, while Tripura with 98% and Tamil Nadu with 72% coverage are among the best.
Census 2011 records 26.8 million disabled Indians but this figure is widely disputed and is considered to be much lower than the actual number. Recently, Tamil Nadu has made it possible to apply for the certificate online with promise of delivery within seven days.
But elsewhere, the time period between application and delivery varies from a minimum of six months to a year, according to disability rights’ activists. The description of the travails of disabled applicants, especially in rural and remote areas, is harrowing. Regardless of the distance, the disabled applicant (whether rural or urban but often poor and a daily-wage earner) has to make at least four visits over a long period of time before receiving the prized certificate.
Worse still, the more “prestigious” institutions – educational or health providers – insist on “reviewing” this certificate all over again. This is due to the touts who operate with impunity almost at the gates of the recognised hospitals and centres promising to speed up the process for a bribe or even for the able-bodied who use these certificates to avail of certain government concessions and subsidies.
Often, the extent of the disability also becomes a point of contention. However, this is akin to punishing the disabled for the authorities’ inability to ensure a foolproof system.
Parents of children with learning disabilities too find obtaining such certificates which allow their children certain exemptions and concessions in public examinations a traumatic and time-consuming experience, for themselves and also for the children. A suggestion that such learning disability certificates should be issued by any teaching medical college with a psychiatry department has not been heeded and it is mandatory to get it from designated government hospitals.
Again, disability certificates issued in one state are not recognised in another and the disabled person who has had to take a transfer for employment or education has to go through the tedious process all over again.
The working group on disability of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan had deliberated on this very aspect and recommended simplification of the procedure.
The National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), which was part of the working group and has fought long and hard to simplify the cumbersome procedure, managed to ensure that the guidelines were amended to an extent in 2010.
These said that an authorised single doctor at the primary and community health centres could certify visible disabilities while applicants with multiple and mental disabilities would have to approach the district headquarters medical board. The crass and humiliating practice of taking full-body photographs of the disabled so that the disability could be “seen” in the photograph on the certificate was also dropped.
Breaking down the task to the district level and ensuring that the district administration takes on this task in a mission mode are the need of the hour.
Instead of forcing the disabled applicants to come to the authorities, the application can be accepted either online or by post and a doctor later sent to the disabled person’s home to verify the disability and issue the certificate within 45 days of the application, the activists point out.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha in the last session of Parliament includes a provision for universalisation of the disability certificate. Should this become law, not only is the onus on the State to provide the certificate, it will also have to be recognised across the country.
The NCPEDP and disability rights activists have been campaigning for the State to fulfil its responsibility of ensuring that every disabled citizen gets the certificate as a matter of right. The time for pious talk and lip service by the political class as well as civil society is long past.