The Indian government has proposed amendments to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to decriminalize minor offenses including those relating to cheque bounce and repayment of loans, in as many as 19 legislations. The government has stated that such provisions ‘’impact investments from both domestic and foreign investors’’, which means that the proposal to amend laws is to provide an investor-friendly climate.
However, around 125 disability rights organizations, civil society organizations, and activists said, strongly oppose the move as it will “dilute” the penalty provisions and thus weaken the penal provisions contained in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The proposed amendments will nullify the little achievements that have been gained in the struggles over the years and will negatively impact the lives of persons with disabilities.
The timing of the proposed amendments is also questionable where the government is taking advantage of the pandemic to open up the economy to unbridled loot by foreign and domestic capital at the cost of the rights of the disabled people. The non-discrimination provisions in the act have been incorporated after decades of struggle by disabled people & the proposed amendments will withdraw the protection by law to the disabled community.
The amendment aims to mellow the penalty under Sections 89, 92 (a), and 93 of the RPwD Act by making certain offenses compoundable. The penalties correspond to contravening its provisions, intentionally insulting or intimidating a disabled person or failing to provide documents under the pursuance of this Act, respectively. The maximum penalties range from fine up to Rs 5 lakh for contravention of the Act and imprisonment up to five years for intimidation or public insult. For instance, the Act protects disabled people only if they are humiliated in public or intimidated. So if someone is humiliated in private, a person with a disability cannot use this Act.
Even though the proposal, right now, is open to public scrutiny and feedback, instead of being widely published in several regional languages and giving people enough time to comment and provide feedback, the proposal has been published in English and a mere ten days have been given for public feedback.
According to Murganantham Linguswamy, an advocate at the Madras High Court and a disability rights activist argued, “The government is trying to create a conducive business environment at the cost of an individual’s dignity – which is a fundamental right,” he said. He further said that the National Crime Record Bureau has not published any statistics regarding offenses against the disabled. “Therefore changing legislation without reliable data is arbitrary,” he said.
The entire proposal can be read on http://www.disabilityaffairs.gov.in and has sought public feedback by July 10.