People with disabilities are possibly the most unheard minority in our country. Ms. Ketna Mehta writes an open letter to the Finance Miniter, about her own and others’ hopes and disappointments from Budget 2014
Dear Mr Jaitley,
Congratulations on presenting a very sensible budget. I was excited to see you in a yellow jacket, you may not know this, but it is one of our disability colours. I became optimistic! During the course of your speech when you had to sit down due to a back ache, I became even more hopeful, as more than 30 million of us sit and conduct our lives on wheelchairs! I looked forward to empathy from you for us – the community of people with disability (70 million) – and was hopeful that this year we indeed would be Included.
Do you know that me and several of my friends with disability are regular and timely tax payers? Some of us have our own enterprises and pay service tax, VAT and corporate taxes! Some of us also sponsor and donate for education of able bodied children, contribute towards cleanliness of our localities and cities, create NGOs to motivate and inspire all citizens.
We go beyond our abilities and capacities to bring about equality in our lovely country, India. In most of my international conferences on disability, unfailingly I meet at least one person who praises the benefit and use of our Indian Jaipur Foot, that enabled them to walk with dignity!
We do understand that India has myriad problems and limited resources. But sadly, issues faced by people with disabilities never get the importance it deserves, year after year! The government’s job is beyond instituting and giving away awards on 3rd of December (International Day of the Disabled) every year.
In our optimism about your Budget, we hoped for at least some of the following:
- Higher interest rate (similar to the benefit for senior citizens) on Fixed Deposits and long term investment instruments held by People with Disability (PWD).
- Free education for PWDs upto SSC in all schools. This would bring real change in exchange for the ‘lip service’ of inclusive education.
- With an increase in the number of accidents in the country, all public hospitals to set up spinal injury rehabilitation units, which will enable them to once again integrate PWDs in society and economically contribute to India’s growth story.
- Rehabilitation insurance to cover all expenses (medical, assistive technology, therapy etc) of daily life with permanent disabilities.
- Access Tax of 2% to be levied on corporations for a period of 10 years to make the public infrastructure in the country barrier-free and accessible for people with disabilities. This could includes educational institutions, government offices, commercial establishments, leisure spaces including sports and recreation, and of course our Parliament.
- In the Railway Budget, we expected a substantial allocation in the budget to make platforms, railway stations and compartments truly disabled friendly. I am sure most Government of India officials have experienced inclusive travel abroad. Some application of these foreign trips in India would have helped.
- 100% FDI in the manufacturing of products and assistive technology for the disabled. We have excellent innovators and minds to replicate the success with the Jaipur Foot I mentioned earlier.
Based on your speech on TV, as I have not yet read the Financial Bill in depth, there are only a few things in this budget for PWDs:
- Govt will print special currency notes for the visually challenged.
- The general provisions that will impact PWDs along with the other citizens like raising of income tax exemption limit, PPF, housing loans and if we survive till old age for senior citizens.
- Four new AIIMS in India is a welcome step for the grossly neglected healthcare sector.
- Hopefully the new IITs, IIMs and National Sports Academies would be designed on Universal Design principles to coach future Tecnocrats, Entrepreneurs and Paralympic winners.
- We also hope that the new “Expenditure Management Commission” to be set up would recruit maximum PWDs, considering that living in India is full of obstacles, struggles and frugal resources; who knows how to stretch limited money better than us?
Our Nina Foundation has been, over the years, sharing in the expectations of People with Disabilities from our own annual budget.
This year we were looking forward to a new beginning with a new government. We are sadly disappointed; the Government of India ratified UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) on the 1st of October 2007. In short, it states that PWDs have the same human rights that everyone enjoys.
Yet these purported rights never translate to action-oriented policies and measures.
We want you to ‘Look’ at us, ‘Hear’ us and ‘Walk’ with us. We will take you far, far ahead on the global map.