Decriminalising offences in RPwD Act will have negative impact: Activists

They said the government was proposing to
Activists have urged the government not to go ahead with the proposed amendments to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 to decriminalise minor offences, saying these will nullify the "little achievements" gained over the years and negatively impact people with disabilities.

The Finance Ministry last month proposed to decriminalise minor offences, including those relating to cheque bounce and repayment of loans, in as many as 19 legislations.

In line with that, the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment put out a proposal on its website for the amendments to the RPwD Act and sought feedback by July 10.

In a joint statement, around 125 disability rights organisations, civil society organisations and activists said they unequivocally register their strong protest against the proposal to "dilute and nullify" penal provisions contained in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

The statement has been signed by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, the Vikalangula Hakkula Jatiya Vedika in Andhra Pradesh, the Delhi Viklang Adhikar Manch, the Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of Differently-Abled and Caregivers, and disability rights activists Nipun Malhotra, Syed Hussain and Seema Baquer among others.

They said the government was proposing to "drastically alter the very nature of the RPwD Act".
"And the government has unabashedly stated that such provisions 'act as deterrents and this is perceived as one of the major reasons impacting investments from both domestic and foreign investors'. Every investor, foreign or Indian, has to comply with the law of the land where they are setting up businesses and legislations are not amended to suit their interests," it said.

They further said ease of doing business or providing an investor-friendly climate cannot come at the cost of the hard-won rights of the marginalised.

"We therefore stoutly oppose these amendments and urge upon the government not to go ahead with them as they will nullify the little achievements that have been gained in the struggles over the years and will negatively impact the lives of persons with disabilities. The disabled need protection guaranteed by law and not patronising terms like 'divyang'," the statement said.

Under the heading of "Decriminalisation of Minor Offences For Improving Business Sentiment And Unclogging Court Processes Amendment in RPwD Act, 2016", the proposal lists amendments to RPwD Act under provisions 89, 92(a) and 93.

The government proposes that a new section 95A may be inserted in the Act.

The joint statement by the rights organisations and the activists said the amendments proposed to the RPwD Act cannot be seen in isolation.

"This is part and parcel of the larger agenda that the central government is pursuing in its renewed thrust for opening up the economy to unbridled loot by foreign and domestic capital utilising the pandemic situation," it claimed.

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