Disability sector of India is disappointed with the Budget announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on 1st February 2017. Now there’s nothing new in this – almost every year, we had talked about this disappointment. However, for 2017 Budget, the discontent is greater because our expectations were much more this year. Not even two months have passed, when Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act has been passed by both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha – the issue of disability is much more discussed in public domain and we have seen media houses writing about us. We were looking for means whereby RPwD Act will be implemented in the coming year. Naturally, our expectations from Government of India increased manifolds.

Speech by Honourable President Pranab Mukherjee in his address to a joint session of Parliament to mark the start of the Budget Session made special mention of disability, which made our expectations higher. Never before did disability sector saw the President talking about this section of people in Budgetary session in such details. As President Mukherjee started his speech saying his government is committed to Sabka Sath Sabka Vikaas, he mentioned in his speech the success of Indian cricket team at the World Cup for the Blind as well as Indian Paralympics contingent at Rio. He stated that government increased the percentage of reservation from 3 to 4 percent in government jobs and accelerated filling up of backlog vacancies.

President’s speech included mention of Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan (Accessible India Campaign) which is highly publicized by the Government of India. Development of common sign language for the entire country, the inclusion of Specific Learning Disability in RPwD Act as well as various camps for disabled people, health insurance under Nirmaya Swasthya Bima Yojana were also cited by Shri Pranab Mukherjee.

Given in this backdrop, very few things mentioned by Finance Minister in his budget speech, specifically for disability sector, brought in bigger disappointments. Also one needs to remember that disability is not a unilateral issue – any changes in allocations for Education or Health directly affects our sector.

To start with, there’s very little increase in allocation of social sector this year, the allocation of going to school education and literacy actually declined, as we need to keep in mind inflation rates. The Right to Education Forum showed their concern that much-needed additional allocations for school education are not mentioned in this budget. It is indeed difficult to understand how Right to Education Act can be implemented if such low priority is given to Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan – education of children with a disability also will be affected since disability is one of the components of SSA. It is important to remember here that literacy rate is much lower among disabled population than non-disabled population.

Though there’s overall increase in Health budget, one need to remember that the allocation for Mental Health remains the same. As inflation is not considered for this sector, one can say in reality, the allocation for Mental Health has gone down. The tweet by Akhileswar Sahay, a Motivational Speaker and Mental Health Activist sums it very nicely “Budget 2017 as predicted Mental Health is no ones baby-even though WHO has decided “Depression” as theme of 2017 World Health Day April 7”.

One needs to understand that lack of mental health facilities is affecting disability sector in a huge way. From certification issue of those with intellectual disabilities to basic counseling support to those who acquire a disability in adult life – we have no set-up in proper place. Needs of persons with psycho-social disabilities are not met up, but that is only one part of the story – mental health support is required by persons with other kinds of disabilities as well. There is no way a family in a rural area can get counseling support once they find out that their child has autism. Trauma counseling is often required for someone who loses a limb by a road accident. And these areas remain totally neglected. Lesser budgetary allocations will increase our difficulties.

What shocks one is, of course, the demarcation of Budget under Sports. According to PTI sources, “The Sports Ministry budget today got a substantial hike of Rs 350 crore in the union budget for 2017-18, presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Parliament here.

Jaitley allocated a total of Rs 1943 crore, compared to Rs 1592 crore earmarked last year. What is striking is that the allocation for sports promotion among disabled has been reduced to just Rs one lakh, a heavy reduction from Rs 4 crore allocated last year.”

This is indeed disappointing as India is hosting Blind T20 World Cup now which was opened with much fanfare in New Delhi recently.

A press release from the Equals, Centre for Promotion of Social Justice, an organization based in Chennai dated 1st February 2017, says that “The Annexure II to the budget speech provides data on allocation to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Women, Children and North East Region but has left data on allocation to persons with disabilities.

Lifts and escalators in 500 railway stations are all that the Union has offered to sort out all the issues experienced by persons with disabilities. There is neither a specific reference to persons with disabilities under the social groups nor a commitment across sectors to address the issues of discrimination experienced by persons with disabilities.”

If one sums up the 2017 Budget from disability lens one can say that lifts and escalators in 500 railway stations seem to be the major highlights. However, a substantial increase in allocations for Indian Sign Language Institute should be more than welcome as we all know that deaf community remains marginalized within disability sector as well.

One does not know from where allocations of Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan, which is the much-publicized program of Government of India, will come. One does not know how Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act will be implemented if sufficient budget is not allocated. One does not know how long disabled will remain one of the most neglected marginalized groups of our country. 2017 Budget brings little cheers for us – but we are determined to build a strong cross-disability network so that there will be a day when the government is forced to hear our voice as well.

Also Read: 2017 Budget – Only Token Assurances For Women?

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