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Empowering the disabled is our priority: Gehlot

Empowering the disabled is our priority: Gehlot
Tell us about your experience in the ministry thus far.
My experience in this ministry has been very good. I am thankful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving me the charge of Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry. Through this ministry, we are dealing with the development of key sections of our society, especially disadvantaged groups, which include scheduled castes, backward classes, senior citizens, persons afflicted by drug addiction and also people with physical disabilities. For each section, we are working towards their empowerment, whether it is through the provision of educational or financial assistance. I am confident that the problems faced by each of these sections will be resolved by my ministry in due time.

What is your vision for the ministry?

After I took over the ministry, I closely understood its schemes and policies. I have realised that one of the major issues was reaching out to people with disabilities. The societal attitude towards them needs to change and they need to be treated as equals. After they are identified, a clear and notified identity card or certificate must be issued to them on the basis of their disability. This is a painstaking and difficult process. Disability certificates acquired from the competent authority in their area turn out to be invalid in other regions. We want to resolve this issue completely. First of all, each person with disability in this country must have an identity card issued by the Government of India. These certificates will identify their disability and measure the same, based on accurate figures.

Accordingly, they shall be enlisted. We have decided that we will conduct a nation-wide survey on this issue. Certified doctors will identify their disabilities and accordingly we shall issue disability cards to them. We plan to complete the process by March next year, and implement this scheme in its entirety by 2016. One other crucial area that we are focusing on is the creation of disabled-friendly places to facilitate the movement of disabled persons. Whether it is in offices or public spaces, we plan to build ramps, lifts and other such structures, which will allow them to move around without too many hassles.

What are some of the other steps your ministry has taken with regards to disabled people?

I have mentioned two crucial areas, namely, identity cards for disabled people and creating a disabled-friendly environment. However, we will also focus on their economic and educational growth. We are looking towards providing equipment and machinery to them, based on their requirements. For example, if someone can’t walk, due to no legs, we need to fit them with artificial limbs or prostheses. We will provide motorised tricycles and wheelchairs at subsidised rates. They can operate these tricycles easily, and eventually it will help them earn a living through enhanced mobility. We have even tried to incorporate modern technology in such cases. For example, in the case of artificial hands or legs, earlier wooden material was used, which hindered their movement.

Nowadays, modern methods have enhanced locomotive mobility, allowing flexibility of the limbs. Through the usage of such modern equipment, various talented people with disabilities have emerged with an ability to move around easily. Recently, India won a lot of medals and received accolades at the Para- Olympic Games, held at Incheon, South Korea.

Tell us about the achievements of your ministry, particularly with regards to the disability sector?

A key focus has been related to the age factor, in the case of disabled persons. For example, to use motorised tricycles, the lower age limit  age is 18 years. But we feel that children who are above 12 years and are keen on garnering education can also operate such vehicles. Therefore, we are focusing on lowering the age limit for the use of such vehicles from 18 to 12 years. Also, there is an upper limit of 40% disability to declare people as ‘disabled’. But in some cases disabilities happen at 10%, which subsequently increases as the person grows older. In such cases the 40% mark could be waived off. Also facilities for them should be based on the type of disability they are diagnosed with.

For this initiative we are in constant consultations with experts. Based on certain schemes, we give educational loans at various levels to different disadvantaged groups. Education is important, as it ensures their social integration. We are also working closely on policy formulation, specifically for the transgender community. We will be working closely with them in the policy formulation process. In case they  fall into the SC, ST or OBC category, then we will have to decide on whether they could be included in both categories or not. We are also working closely with senior citizens from all classes. There are various provisions for them like care centres. We could also work towards building day care centres for them, which would be optional, depending on whether they wish to stay there or not.

Another very significant issue, which the ministry has taken up, is substance abuse. The most difficult part here is identifying people, who indulge in drug abuse, as they can again come from various sections of society. Often when drug users are confronted with their abuse, their first reaction is denial.

We are making an effort to conduct a survey and identify them. After they have been identified, the next step is to admit them to rehabilitation centres, where they will receive advice, as well as medication to help them quit. Another major issue is that of beggary. In some places, it is being run as a racket. Consequently, we are trying to identify them and help them out. For all these issues, we will work together with various state governments and non-governmental organisation. We must receive responsible cooperation from their side as well to implement such schemes. They will provide us with verified data, before we offer assistance to them.

What are the new policy level announcements for the education of those with disabilities?

 There is a focus on ensuring economic independence for them by offering support and aid of voluntary organisations, low cost education by e-learning and also enabling higher tax relief for family members of people with disabilities.

How would you ensure that the real beneficiaries receive the government’s help?

Firstly, we will ensure that these people are identified correctly, after which, at every level, monitoring of the utilisation of funds will be done by the ministry. To avoid incorrect information and malpractices, we have started online applications to ensure transparency. There is always an effort from the ministry’s side to transfer money directly right into the claimant’s bank account. On receipt of proposal from NGOs, we will provide financial aid and monitor, through thorough inspections, whether the grant amount reaches the beneficiary, i.e. the disabled.

Tania Ameer

Tania Ameer

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