Covid-19 seems to have created a huge challenge for not just the mainstream but for those who belong to the marginalised section of the society and those who are differently-abled. While the pandemic has created a huge loss for those who are differently-abled including the loss of jobs, education, mental stress that is associated with all these aspects, uplifting their socio-economic strata is the main focus. Which is why focusing on health security and uplifting them financially would be the only focal points that would generate the equilibrium in their lives. Resolving this, the pandemic has seen numerous NGOs coming forward with digital campaigns to raise funds to give thrust to skill development education programs, food distributions, mask distributions and sanitization to help these marginalised sections of the society tremendously.
To overcome Covid-posed challenges, the Budget 2021 is going to surely be a torchbearer for the marginalised sections of the society, especially those who are differently-abled. As Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry allocated Rs. 11,689 crore. The budgetary allocation for 2019-20 for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment saw a decline where the funds allocated to the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment for the upcoming financial year saw a decline of about 11 per cent, to Rs 8,885 crore from Rs 9,963.25 crore (revised estimate) in 2018-19
In union budget 2021-22, Senior Citizens of 75 Years and above would get Major Tax Exemption. In the last 2020-21 budget, Rs. 9,500 crore for senior citizens was announced and withheld separately where senior citizens and differently-abled people were included in the budget to assist the needy by offering facilities. From this budget, differently abled were ideally expecting tax benefits, no GST on medical aids and equipments, and low-interest rates for differently-abled. Swavalamban Health Insurance Scheme, the flagship government scheme of the central government, aims to provide affordable health insurance to persons with disabilities (PwD). But benefit from the scheme is still missing for the differently-abled due to its reach and popularity among people.
Under the Income-tax segment, two aspects under Section 80DD of the Income-tax Act must be considered under which differently-abled taxpayers can claim a deduction. 1) Definition of disability must be considered and 2) The relaxation for the taxpayers to get maturity benefit while securing the life of a differently-abled dependant.
Under the Accessible India Mission, Indian Railways operates 3,400 Disabled-Friendly Integral Coach Factory (ICF) design coaches for differently-abled persons. But still, there are only few trains where there is wide entry doors, wide berths, wide compartments, large toilets and toilet doors for the person with disabilities.
In 2015, central government came forward to amend its rules towards raising the cost of medical care and special needs of a differently-abled person where Finance Bill 2015 proposed to amend section 80DD of the Income-tax Act to raise the limit of deduction in respect of a person with disability from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 75,000 and in respect of a person with severe disability, from Rs. 1,00,000/- to Rs. 1,25,000/-.
In terms of Education, there will be multiple expectations from the government as Covid-19 has caused a detrimental impact on the education sector. With a paradigm shift in the teaching and learning modes and the introduction of the National Education Policy (NEP), there must be an introduction of multiple level reforms in this sector.
While the push has been towards E-learning and the prime focus area has been on digital learning, the Govt. should focus on extending its reach of the technology following a bottom-up approach where the schools in rural areas should have access to such modern teaching facilities. Furthermore, assisted learning tools must be introduced at the grassroots level for the differently-abled students in these areas. To make such a strong shift, subsidies should have been offered to Ed-tech companies to launch their products in these areas and otherwise too. This would be beneficial for the differently-abled students on the whole. Ed-tech companies can fruitfully collaborate with Govt or private institutions to offer skill-based training programmes, especially the differently-abled in the coding segment, this would generate entrepreneurial ventures and job opportunities for the students.
NGOs were expecting more tax exemptions that can be offered to donors who are contributing to the society through their CSR spending’s.
By Prashant Agarwal , Mr. Prashant Agarwal is the president of Narayan Seva Sansthan, a non-profit organization serving differently able and underprivileged individuals.