The state government can barely walk the talk when it comes to providing benefits to the differently abled. In his Mann ki Baat speech last year, PM Narendra Modi had suggested that the physically challenged be called divyang (disenfranchised but divine) instead of viklang. If only the change in nomenclature made their life easy. Call it blithe disregard for the disabled, even today, the divyang from remote villages of Ahmedabad district are forced to travel 50-100 km to Lal Darwaza to avail of government benefits – these include scholarships, assistance to set up business, financial assistance for marriage and employment, insurance, free bus pass, pension for the blind and housing allowance for widows.
In 2011, Modi, who was then the CM, had introduced the scheme Apno Taluko, Vibrant Taluko (ATVT) to provide a singlewindow access to the disabled in taluka offices for all governmentscheme related work. But that project remains on paper. None of the 10 talukas have implemented the concept that could have saved the differentlyabled unnecessary hassle. Every time they want to fill a form or submit a document, they come all the way to the Bahumali building which is the ONLY office in the entire district to process the schemes for the disabled.
According to highly placed sources, as many as 5,000 differently abled people visit the office every week for a free ST bus travel pass. The office remains jam-packed with beneficiaries from Ahmedabad city and district. The government had earlier introduced online forms for beneficiaries but no one has benefited from it either due to illiteracy or unavailability of computer or internet at talati offices. Kurbanshah Gulabshah, 48, has to travel 70 km from Rupgadh village in Dholka taluka to the Bahumali building. He reaches the office before 9.30 am to avoid standing in long queues. “I take a bus and a private vehicle to reach the office of social defense department to ensure they process my form and grant me an ST bus pass,” Shah said.
He added, “Due to my disability, it becomes difficult for me to travel in private vehicles. The government should open a facility at the taluka level (in mamlatdar office) to give us benefits instead of compounding our problems.” On Tuesday, Kalidas Patel travelled all the way from Sitapur in Mandal taluka just to fill in a form for ST bus pass. “I leave home around 6.30 am and reach Lal Darwaza by 11am. I not only have to change two buses but even walk for some distance. Had they opened an office at Mandal taluka, it would have been a huge relief for me,” Patel said. Hasuben, another applicant for the identity card, had come to the department from Kundrel village of Daskroi. “Why is the government not offering disabled-friendly facilities at taluka level?” she asked.
“The government has introduced e-dhara project at every talati office to help the disabled avail of the benefits, but nobody is able to utilize it is either due to illiteracy or non-functional computers,” said a highly placed official on condition of anonymity. He said, “The government had introduced ATVT project in 2011. We were required to send forms for the disabled to mamlatdar office and get those back after they were filled in. But that project never took off,” he said, adding, “Now, coming to Ahmedabad office is the only option beneficiaries have.”
District Social Defense Officer Bharat Desai said, “I have instructed my staff to ensure there is no delay in processing the forms by the applicants who come from far-off areas. They come here before we open our office, but we also make sure we work till late in the evening.” Tushar Dholakia, director of the department, said, “We are aware about the difficulties faced by the divyang and working on a plan to make sure that they do not need to come all the way to Ahmedabad to avail themselves of government schemes.” As per officials, there are more than 33,000 registered differently-abled citizens in Ahmedabad district and eight schemes for them. Every day, 500 people throng the department’s office at Lal Darwaza to get their work done.