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Guardians: rights and duties

The Indian Government has entrusted the welfare of people with special abilities to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The ministry’s initiatives have helped India become a signatory to the Biwako Millennium Framework, which aims to build an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for such people. India is also party to the Declaration on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. While the laws relating to disability are currently covered under multiple legislations, the most recent is the National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act, 1999. This Act supports the social participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Under this statute, the National Trust and local-level committees have been set up, which facilitate registration of organisations promoting the welfare of persons with disabilities. The main objectives of the National Trust are: (a) To ensure that people with disabilities lead dignified, independent lives; (b) To empower NGOs and other voluntary organisations and (c) To appoint legal guardians to care for persons with disabilities.

The appointment of guardians is a welcome decision. The National Trust (under the Ministry of Social Justice) and local-level committees allow the formation of associations of people with disabilities, or of their parents, to apply for registration as a guardian. The state nodal agency centre and the state nodal agency partner are the institutional bodies that support the National Trust. Further, local-level committees headed by district collectors are empowered to appoint legal guardians for the people in its ambit. Applications are evaluated at every level with respect to the needs of the person with special abilities.

The appointed guardians are responsible for the person as well as for the maintenance of his property. Within six months from the date of their appointment, the guardians must deliver to the authorities an inventory of all the immovable property belonging to the person. They should prepare a list of all the assets and movable property along with a statement of all claims, debts and liabilities of the person under their care. Within three months of the end of every financial year, the guardians must furnish statements of accounts relating to the property and assets in their charge, the sums received and disbursed on account of the person with disability and the balance with them.

If a parent or relative of a person with disability or a registered organisation finds that a guardian is abusing or neglecting the person, or misappropriating the property, the National Trust Act provides for a systematic removal of guardians.

Despite multiple legislations, the laws relating to persons with disabilities are wanting. India has signed the UN Convention, but it is necessary to adopt legislation that further restricts discrimination and provides more rights to persons with special needs. Towards this goal, in 2005, the government proposed a National Policy for Persons with Disabilities. This policy attempts to undertake social action by providing such people with a rehabilitative environment, thereby enabling them to participate in all areas of civil society.

It remains to be seen if we can move beyond the intellectual impediments that have prevented persons with disabilities from participating in and contributing to the modern society meaningfully.

First Published in Money Today on August o7, 2008

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