The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the economy to an all-time low. Further, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has claimed that the sheer downfall of 23.9% of the Gross domestic Product (GDP) is purely an ‘act of god’. However, a Right to Information (RTI) application reveals that the entire structure of employment in the case of persons with disabilities has been weak from the very beginning.
Sarah Sharma, a Volunteer of Javed Abidi Foundation, filed an RTI application in October 2019, which uncovered that, as per information received from the states, the number of disabled job seekers registered on the live register of Employment Exchanges in India was 6.89 lakh in 2015. Data after this period is “under process”.
Unsurprisingly, the Directorate of Employment under the Ministry of Labour & Employment has not been able to furnish any data after the passage of the Right of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act of 2016, which increases the number of disabilities from 7 to 21, and in the case of persons with benchmark disabilities (a person with not less than 40% of specified disability) provides for a 4% reservation in the area of employment.
Being a comprehensive law this reservation is further divided under five broader heads, (a) blindness & low vision (b) deaf & hard of hearing, (c}locomotor disability including cerebral palsy, leprosy cured, dwarfism, acid attack victims, & muscular dystrophy, (b) autism intellectual disability, specific learning disability & mental illness, (e) multiple disabilities from amongst persons under clauses (a) to (d) including deaf -blindness in the posts identified for disabilities. 1% each is allocated to (a), (b), (c} and 1% is divided amongst clauses (d) & (e).
How is it that the ministry doesn’t have data after the passage of the new law?! The question here is representative of how much the ministry of labour and employment values its disabled citizens. Moreover it shows the lack of concern the ministry has when it comes to collecting data on people with disability.
The RTI intervention:
On 30 September 2019, Sarah Sharma submitted an RTI application to the Ministry of Labour & Employment seeking the following information (see page one):
“Please provide me a copy of the following information:
1. List of PwD’s seeking employment as per section 22(2) mandating every employment exchange shall maintain records of persons with disabilities seeking employment.
2. List of measures taken by the state government to make the employment exchange accessible to PwD’s”.
The RTI replies:
The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Ministry of Labour & Employment Directorate General of Employment transferred the RTI application internally on 10 October 2019 to the Joint Director of Employment and also to the officer in charge of RTI and legal cell of the ministry.
The two sections of the ministry sent replies to Sarah.
1. On 4 October 2019, the officer in charge of RTI and legal cell of the ministry transferred the application to the Chief Secretary of the Haryana Civil Secretariat, who further transferred the application seeking data from all the different districts of Haryana state.
2. On 15 October, Joint Director of Employment and CPIO of the Ministry of Labour & Employment Directorate General of Employment informed Sarah that “the Directorate General of Employment deals with statistics of the employment exchange, as per the information received from the states, number of disabled job seekers, all of whom may not necessarily be unemployed, registered on the live register for employment exchanges in the country was 6.89 lakh in 2015. Data after this period is in process”. Further, Sarah was shocked to see the answer for her second query, “the information in point no. 2 is neither collected nor maintained in this directorate general of employment”.
From the replies received from the Ministry of Labour & Employment, it is clear that they have not delivered when it comes to maintaining crucial data. Especially when it comes to the implementation of a new law such as the RPWD Act, giving hope to people with disabilities to be better represented leading to larger levels of equality and non discrimination. Further the data that was provided by the different districts was disaggregated and lackadaisical at best, sometimes giving a list of names and at other times providing numbers.
The districts do not have a uniform practice when it comes to collecting data on people with disabilities showing a lack of coordination between different government functionaries.
According to the data, a total of 4,592 people with disabilities are registered in 22 districts of Haryana.
What is wrong with the responses?
A question in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) was coincidently asked by Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress. The question is as follows;
a) the State-wise details of the job seekers registered on the live register at Employment Exchanges in the country during the last three years;
(b) the State-wise details of the job seekers in the age group of 15–29 during the last three years;
(c} the details of the vacancies notified, filled, cancelled and outstanding during the last three years;
(d) the category-wise details of the job seekers placed through employment exchanges during the last three years; and
(e) whether the Ministry has evaluated the unemployment situation based on information available from Employment Exchanges and if so, the details of the key findings? (See attachment)
On 23 March 2020, Rahul Gandhi received a response. He was provided information regarding vacancies and placements for 2015, 2016, 2017 and further that there were “424.4 lakh job seekers, all of whom may not necessarily be unemployed, were registered on the live register of employment exchanges in the country at the end of December 2017”.
A direct indicator of discrimination by the ministry was their answer to sub-part (d) where Gandhi asked for the category-wise details of the job seekers placed through employment exchanges during the last three years. Gandhi was provided data for three years — 2014, 2015, 2016 — and there were only three categories mentioned; Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. There was no mention of disability in the answer of the ministry. Sarah had sought the same data as Rahul Gandhi with regards to disability but she only got information for the year 2015. Why is it that data was available for the categories of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and not disability? Is it because people with disabilities are not a big enough vote bank or does the ministry feel that one marginalised community is more important than the other?
The Lok Sabha answer clearly indicates that when it comes to persons without disability, the ministry doesn’t have a problem collecting data, as they have it compiled and tabled it beautifully before Rahul Gandhi for the year 2017. The RTI application, coupled with the answer of the ministry to the Lok Sabha question, clearly shows that the government does not have disability even remotely on its radar.
The author is the Convenor of Javed Abidi Foundation (JAF). Views are personal.
This article was first published on Medium by the JAF.