From its very conception, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act has been fraught with controversies; quite a surprising situation given that most factions fighting for disability rights in the nation supposedly desire to present a united front. India, having signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in October 2007 with astounding alacrity, took almost three years to decide to draft a new piece of legislation, instead of bringing about over 100 amendments to the existing The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995, to align laws in the country with international obligations.
The recent past has seen a flurry of activity in the written media about the working draft of the Act that was released on the 20th of November, 2010. As is the situation in case of every decision dealing with a great number of people with divergent ideas, this draft too has come under fire on several grounds and has received bouquets as well. The only crucial factor, however, is that the draft, termed as a working draft seeks not to be a decision, but a deliberative instrument meant to change as substantive suggestions come in.
One of the principal opponents of the law, Mr. Javed Abidi, Convenor of the Disability Rights Group, is of the opinion that the current draft legislation is, in entirety, against the letter and spirit of the UN CRPD. His opinion is based on the belief that the voices of persons with disabilities went unheard in the drafting process and that the Committee set up to draft the law is inept and displays a lack of “brain trust". He has made it clear that in his belief, the Committee has lost any faith that he had in it and that it, along with the legal consultant, ought to be dismissed. Taking a strongly opposing stance, Mr. Prasanna Pincha, Special Rapporteur at the National Human Rights Commision, in his open letter detailing his opinion of the draft on first reading, states that “the working draft, in a certain sense, is way more radical/progressive than even the UNCRPD." He goes on to congratulate the Committee and the legal consultant for executing the task of drafting such landmark legislation “with remarkable sensitivity and alacrity".
Mr. Abidi insists that expert knowledge and the requirements of persons with disabilities have been disregarded time and again by the legal consultant, Dr. Amita Dhanda, and the Committee. On the other hand, the legal consultant informs that sub-groups had their deliberations with the legal consultant after consulting with larger civil society. These opinions were proactively obtained by committee members, for example on women with disabilities, even whilst in consultation with the legal consultant. The duty to seek opinion of civil society was on Committee members" not the consultant; it was a duty which the members fulfilled in both letter and spirit. Another source who was intrinsically involved in the drafting process and worked on accessibility points out that the civil society has been involved throughout. The one meeting in September where the civil society was invited, “they derailed the entire process". Also, the chair was always open to suggestions via e-mail. Mr. Mahesh Chandrasekhar, Advocacy Coordinator at CBR Forum opines that the manner in which the draft law has been published without any explicit statement soliciting civil society participation facilitates the creation of a situation where “the few people who have been in someways [sic] connected to the members of the committee are somehow trying to be engaged in this process"