UP government’s schemes and grants are failing to reach people with disabilities: RTI

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacts with a physically challenged man during a function at Parade Ground in Allahabad, on 29 February 2020. The BJP-ruled government at the centre failed to follow its own directive to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to care and essential services during the lockdown, as did the party’s government in Uttar Pradesh. SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/Getty Images
16 December, 2020

In December 2019, M Venkaiah Naidu, the vice president, on behalf of the union ministry of social justice and empowerment, presented the Uttar Pradesh government the National Award of Excellence for doing a “commendable” job in the field of rehabilitation of persons with disabilities. The state received a total of three awards for doing “excellent” work for people with disabilities. In contrast, the response to a right to information application from the Uttar Pradesh government’s department for the empowerment of persons with disabilities revealed that only a miniscule percentage of the people with disabilities are able to access the grants, programmes and schemes that they are entitled to. The response also shows that the number of people enrolled in some schemes has consistently fallen since Ajay Singh Bisht, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is commonly called Yogi Adityanath, came to power in 2017. The failure of the Uttar Pradesh government in supporting and rehabilitating people with disabilities is further accentuated by the poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Disabled Persons in India Report, published in 2016 by the central ministry of statistics and programme implementation noted that Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of people with disabilities across all Indian states. The report classifies disability as “an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions,” including impairment of sight, hearing, movement, as well as mental disability, mental illness and those with multiple disabilities. The report noted that 41,57,514 people with disabilities resided in the state, which accounted for 15.5 percent of the nation’s population of those with disabilities, according to the 2016 report. The report noted that Uttar Pradesh was home to 6,77,713 people suffering from some kind of disability in movement; 1,81,342 with intellectual disability; 10,27,835 in hearing; 2,66,586 in speech; 76,603 with mental illness; 21,7011 with multiple disabilities and 9,46,436 categorised as “Any Other.”

The report also noted that those with disabilities have a higher likelihood to face other forms of societal deprivation. A majority of the state’s people with disabilities, the report said, were unable to work for a living, with 27,11,121 being non-workers. Widows with disability too accounted for a population of 3,34,998, of which 2,42,000 widows were above the age of 60. Persons with disability also has to face the brunt of child marriage as out of total 18,11,099 married people with disabilities, 12,779 are below the age of 14.

On 7 June, I filed an RTI application to the state’s empowerment of persons with disabilities department requesting information about the reach of the four most widespread programmes meant for people with disabilities. The response to the RTI shows that all four have reached only a small population. Under the Uttar Pradesh the government’s Grant Scheme (Disability Pension), people with a minimum of 40-percent disability, above the age of 18, and under the state’s poverty line, would be entitled to Rs 500 every month. The response to the RTI revealed that only 9,84,709 people have received the pension in the financial year between 2018 and 2019. In the financial year between 2019 and 2020 this number increased only marginally to 10,64,814. Given that a majority of those with disabilities are unable to work, the pension is essential for daily sustenance, particularly for people without familial support.

Under the state government’s Artificial Limbs and Assistive Equipment Scheme, individuals with at least 40-percent disability and falling under the state’s poverty line could get a grant for the purchase of artificial organs and assistance equipment. This includes a wide range of equipment from wheelchairs and crutches, to education kits for blind and deaf children. Under the wide eligibility conditions of the scheme, a vast majority of people with disabilities in the state would likely qualify for grants. However, the RTI shows that only 27,905 people received assistance under the grant in the financial year between 2019 and 2020. Alarmingly, this is a significant drop from the 63,744 people who received grants under the scheme the previous year.

The number of applications received for the ALAES and the Grant scheme was not mentioned in the response to the RTI. However, several disability activists told me that the application for these schemes were often inaccessible to people with disabilities. Mridul Singh, the founder of Koshish Special School, a non-governmental organisation working with children with disabilities in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad, told me that the process to get disability certificates is often tough and costly. “The divyang person”—those with disabilities—“has to go to many hospitals and government departments to get disability certificate and other documents,” she said. “Often they have to bribe crooks or the middle men to get the benefits of the government schemes. Many non-governmental organisations also register the divyang person for aids and appliances, for which they are later on asked to pay money as donations to that particular NGO.” Singh also said that the applications for various schemes were on different portals online and complicated to navigate. This limits access to those who are illiterate, who are nearly half of those with disabilities in the state, according to the 2016 report. Singh said that those who were visually impaired or did not have family to fill forms for them also struggled with applying for schemes.

Schemes for visually impaired people have been some of the least successful under the helm of the empowerment of persons with disabilities department. The response to the RTIs showed that in a state with 7,63,988 visually impaired people, only 557 people got grants under the Corrective Surgery Treatment Grant of the Uttar Pradesh government, in the financial year between 2019 and 2020. Only 104 people received the same grant the previous year. 

Programmes linked to children with disabilities have also been poorly managed by the state government. According to the 2016 report, Uttar Pradesh is home to the highest number of children under the age of six with disabilities in the country. More than a fifth of the country’s children with disabilities are from Uttar Pradesh. The Uttar Pradesh government began a programme to train teachers to identify children affected by dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity syndrome. The RTI found that in the financial year between 2018 and 2019, only 622 teachers enrolled under the programme. This number fell to 512 the following year.

On 31 March this year, the union ministry of social justice and empowerment issued an advisory asking state governments to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to care and essential services. The BJP-ruled government at the centre failed to follow its own directive, as did the party’s government in Uttar Pradesh. On 8 July, the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, a Delhi-based NGO working with people with disabilities, published a report titled “Locked Down and Left Behind” highlighting how the coronavirus pandemic had affected people with disabilities. The report found that the poorly planned lockdown announced by the central government to slow the spread of the virus affected 73 percent of people with disabilities nationwide. “Out of those facing particular challenges, 57 percent said they were facing a financial crisis, 13 percent spoke of challenges in accessing rations, while 9 percent were facing obstacles in access to healthcare and medical aid,” the report stated. The report also stated that no person with disabilities in Uttar Pradesh that they had studied had got the central government pensions, unlike a few other states.

A previous report in The Caravan noted that the central government did not consult the department of empowerment of persons with disabilities or the ministry of social justice and empowerment it falls under for the first three weeks of the lockdown, well after the ministry’s advisory. This was despite a consultation being required under the National Disaster Management Plan. This failure only accentuated the dreadful failure of Uttar Pradesh in dealing with one of its most invisibilised minorities. Announcement and schemes for people with disabilities failed to address pre-COVID mandated entitlements, let alone corona-related relief measures. The ministry of social justice, the central department of persons with disabilities, the office of the vice-president and the Uttar Pradesh government’s department of persons with disabilities did not respond to any questions about the small coverage and reduced effectivity of their schemes.