**New Delhi** Parliament on Friday passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014, with the Lok Sabha giving its nod to the legislation. It was the first bill in the winter session to be passed amid comparative bonhomie between the government and the opposition in both houses.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present in the Lok Sabha as the bill was passed on the last day of the session.
The bill, which replaces the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, has been brought in to comply with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which India signed in 2007.
The legislation was pending in the Rajya Sabha since February 2014 as the term of the erstwhile UPA government ended soon after the bill was introduced. It was passed by the upper house earlier this week.
Piloting the bill in the lower house, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot said the bill will increase reservations for the disabled persons to 4 per cent.
“There will be 21 categories instead of seven earlier to cover all disabilities. Medical and education facilities are also given. No Divyangs (disabled) will be left out,” he said.
Most Congress members, including the party leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, were missing from the house as the bill was tabled as they went for a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee on the demonetisation issue.
Congress member K.C. Venugopal, who was present in the house and participated in the debate, also used it as an opportunity to speak on demonetisation.
“Since 16th (November) we are trying to discuss the issue of demonetisation, but government is not interested,” he said.
He then welcomed the bill but highlighted the the draft legislation did not compel private firms to give reservation to disabled persons, and it only said this should be done if it is economically viable.
As the bill was taken up for passage, amendments brought by opposition members were defeated one after the other.
However, in one of the amendments, Congress members insisted for a division.
When the electronic voting was done, 121 members voted against the amendment in comparison to 43 members who favoured it.
However, the giant screens in the Lok Sabha which were supposed to display the members’ votes according to the seating plan faced a malfunction, and could not display the result.
This was used by the opposition as an opportunity to take a dig at the ruling party.
As the Prime Minister was sitting in the house, members from the Congress said that “Digital India has failed”, and “it failed in front of Mr. Digital”.
Another member from the opposition benches said: “It’s condition has become like an ATM.”
The bill was finally passed by voice vote, soon after which the house was adjourned sine die.