Official estimates posit the number of Indians living with disabilities at 2.68 crore (26.8 million), although World Bank estimates from 2007 placed the figure between forty and eighty million. Government figures suggest men are more likely than women to experience disabilities, with rural areas shouldering the largest disabled population: 69 percent of Indians with disabilities are believed to live in rural areas.
India in recent years has made strides to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, passing in 2016 a game-changing bill which instituted penalties for those seen to discriminate against the disabled and increased the number of officially recognised disabilities from seven to 21. As a result of increasing the number of recognised disabilities, the number of disabled Indians was projected at the time to increase to between seventy and 100 million.
One of the major measures undertaken by the government to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities was a project named “Unique ID for Persons with Disabilities” (UDID), the launch of which was announced in 2015. According to the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, UDID is intended to create a database of persons with disabilities in order to make it easier for them to avail government benefits by issuing cards to them. The Department goes on to outline
“The project will not only encourage transparency, efficiency and ease of delivering the government benefits to the person with disabilities but also ensure uniformity. The project will also help in streamlining the tracking of [the] physical and financial progress of [beneficiaries] at all levels of hierarchy of implementation from [Village-level, Block-level, District-level, State-level, and National-level].”
Yet in the years since the scheme was launched, many persons with disabilities are still waiting for their cards to be issued. 61 lakh applications for UDID cards have been received; a mere nineteen lakh cards have been issued. The slow pace of progress can be considered characteristic of the initiative in many respects: as reported by The Times of India it was only last year that all states were covered under the initiative.
It has been suggested that the expanded estimates of individuals with disabilities following the recognition of more conditions is part of the reason behind the stalled rollout, affecting the implementational capacities of state health departments. “The pace of the UDID project depends on the interest and drive of the states…in many states, the health department is not cooperating saying that they are already overloaded with work,” said K. V. S. Rao, director of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. Rao noted that software developed by the Centre would help the departments manage in this regard.
The news shows that, despite progress, there is still a long way to go before India fully meets the needs of its disabled population. Ensuring that state health departments have the resources to put the scheme into place for the benefit of disabled individuals is imperative to the health and wellbeing of India’s disabled persons.