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.