Budget 2021: Disability sector forgotten again, say rights activists

The disabled people of India and mental health did not find any mention in the Finance Minister’s two-hour long budget speech.

The disability sector, which said it was expecting inclusion especially in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, seems to be disappointed with the Union Budget 2021 that was presented in Parliament today. The disability rights activists claimed that the budget was not inclusive and said that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman did not mention the disabled people even once in her speech.

‘No roadmap for RPwD Act, 2016 yet’

The disabled people of India and mental health did not find any mention in the Finance Minister’s two-hour long budget speech. They needed a compassionate inclusion, especially due to the pandemic, but the overall budgetary allocation for the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) was reduced from Rs 1325.39 crore last year to 1171.77 crore this time.

Despite COVID-19 creating a demand for mental health services, the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation did not receive any budgetary allocation. However, the yet-to-be approved National University of Rehabilitation Science and Disability Studies , which is still a bill and criticised by the disability sector, was allocated Rs 0.01 crore. This, when there is no roadmap to implement the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RPwD), 2016.

The flagship Accessible India Campaign, despite being launched by the PM, was not allocated a separate budget and money for it was pooled from Scheme for implementation of Persons with Disability Act (SIPDA) whose allocation has been further reduced from Rs 251 to Rs 209 crore.

DEPwD’s tableau on “Indian Sign Language” at the 72nd Republic Day parade turned out to be mere lip service as the autonomous Indian Sign Language, Research and Training Centre did not receive any budgetary allocation.

— Dr Satendra Singh
Doctors with Disabilities: Agents of Change

‘No specific mention of inclusion, schemes for the disabled’

Budget 2021 stated that it rests on six pillars, one of which is inclusive development for aspirational India. However, it chose to neglect persons with disabilities once again. This budget was of utmost importance due to the ongoing pandemic as people have lost jobs and children have dropped out of schools.

The ‘Atmanirbhar Swasthya Bharat Scheme’, which is the highlight of this year’s budget focusing on strengthening of primary and secondary healthcare centres, has no word on persons with disabilities. We hope all disabled people are included under the health schemes announced in the budget.

Sadly, the budget document still referred to the Persons with Disabilities Act,1995 while we have entered into the fifth year of the RPWD Act, 2016.

Other than in the exemption of senior citizens who are over the age of 75 from income tax return filing and easier dividend payout, there was no specific mention of inclusion and schemes for persons with disabilities that was announced in the budget. The budget for the DEPwD has been reduced to Rs 1171.76 crore from Rs 1325.39 crore.

Arman Ali
Executive director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment

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