Responding to concerns raised by activists that the Right to Education Bill excludes disabled children from its ambit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is said to have asked Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal to make a statement in the House tomorrow before the Bill is put to vote. “Prime Minister Singh assured us of his sensitivity towards educating disabled children and also said that UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi shared his concern,” said Syamala Gidugu, member of the Disability Rights Group, who met the PM this afternoon with her colleague Mithu Alur. PM’s media advisor Harish Khare confirmed that Singh had spoken to Sibal and asked him to “see how to accommodate concerns” of disability activists. When contacted, Sibal said: “I will make my statement before Parliament, in response to the queries of the members.” Disability activists claim the Bill ignores the rights of disabled children by not providing for disabled-friendly facilities, by not including “disability” with the definition of “disadvantage” (the consequence being that disabled children will not qualify for a 25 per cent quota in private schools), and by not including the mentally challenged within the definition of “disabled.”
Sibal strongly denies this. “The Bill does recognise mental illnesses such as cerebral palsy,” he said. “Besides, it is only an enabling Act. Of course, we will issue model directions specifying additional facilities.” He added it was up to the state governments to implement the Act. “I have inherited both drafts of the Bill from the previous HRD minister,” he said, “I made absolutely no changes to it.” The minister also wondered why disability activists never voiced their objections while the Bill was discussed by the Central Advisory Board of Education, was being debated before the Standing Committee, or even when it was passed by the Rajya Sabha. “Why did they raise it only on the day the Bill was originally to be passed in the Lok Sabha (last Friday),” he asked. Javed Abidi, who heads the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People, says activists had repeatedly tried to meet the HRD minister for the last three weeks, but were unable to get an appointment.