Disabled excluded from welfare schemes from time immemorial, says HC

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) have been excluded from welfare schemes "from time immemorial", the Delhi High Court said on Wednesday and asked the Centre to consider providing them ration based on their disability certificates.

"The problem is they are excluded from (welfare) schemes from time immemorial. If the Centre is not aware about this, we will make it aware," a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan said.

"Fact that persons with disabilities get marginalised from every scheme does not require a debate," it said.

The observations by the bench came while hearing an NGO's PIL seeking directions to the Centre to ensure that states and Union Territories provide benefits of welfare schemes, like Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana, to PWD also during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court, during the hearing of the plea via video conferencing, suggested to the central government to initially provide one month's ration to PWDs based on their disability certificates and while doing so, to also get all their details which would be required to issue them a ration card.

Subsequently, when the PWDs come for ration, they will have a ration card as is mandated under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for disbursing foodgrain, the court said.

Central government standing counsel Monika Arora told the court that she will seek instructions with regard to the suggestion and the bench, thereafter, listed the matter for hearing on July 29.

The petition by the NGO, National Federation of Blind, represented by senior advocate Santosh Kumar Rungta, has contended that PWDs are neglected when reliefs under various food security measures are implemented as most of them do not have ration cards.

The central government told the court that ration cards are required under NFSA to provide foodgrain to over 80 crore people and compartmentalising them under various categories, including disabled, makes it difficult to identify the priority households.

The Centre, in an affidavit, also said that everyone was being issued ration cards and the onus was on the PWDs to show that they were not able to get it.

The bench did not appreciate the stand of the Centre, saying the "tone and tenor of the affidavit was surprising".

"Onus is not on PWD to they could not get ration cards. Onus is on government to show it has provided ration cards to everyone," the court said.

"The problem is that you (Centre) are not compartmentalising," the bench said.

It further said, "It is unharmonious if you implement the NFSA but not the Rights of PWD (RPWD) Act. The disharmony is due to ignoring of the RPWD while implementing the NFSA."

The Centre also claimed that it is the responsibility of the states and UTs to identify priority households.

To this, the bench said that the states and UTs would require the "backing/blessing" of the Centre by way of a office memorandum or a circular to include PWDs under the various welfare schemes, like the Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana.

It, however, asked the NGO to make the Delhi government a party in the matter.

The NGO has contended that under the PWD Act of 1995, a 3 per cent reservation was provided for all disabled persons in poverty alleviation schemes and this was increased to 5 per cent under the RPWD Act of 2016.

Therefore, the government should ensure that at least 5 per cent of the beneficiaries for foodgrain under the schemes like, Antyodaya Anna Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana, are PWD, it said.

It has also said that most of the PWDs are in institutions as they are neglected by their families and such institutions do not provide an address proof to their inmates and therefore, they are unable to get ration cards.

The NGO has said that under the NFSA, the Centre has to ensure states and UTs identify the PWD who are eligible for foodgrains under the various schemes and to provide the same to them.

The petition has sought a direction to the Centre to "consider the cases of persons with disabilities and visually impaired persons even without ration cards on the basis of their disability certificates and/ or Unique Disability ID (UDID) for getting benefit under National Food Security Act" and the Pradhan Mantri Garib Anna Kalyan Yojana.

Besides that, it has also sought that foodgrains be provided free of cost to poor PWD as was done for migrant labourers and others during the present pandemic. 
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