Is the Draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2021, the Way Forward to a Disability-Inclusive India?

disabilities act

Recently, during the budget session 2023, former Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was moved from the front row of the Rajya Sabha to the last for ease of mobility on his wheelchair. The incident brought on the question if all the talks on accessible and inclusive India have resulted into effective policies or not. This brings us to critically look at the draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2021 : on how different it is from the National Policy for PwD, 2006 and whether or not it is successful in putting PwDs\’ concerns front and center.

The Draft National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2021 was published by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India.

The new draft policy aims to address the gaps and shortcomings of the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities, 2006. It aims to provide a comprehensive and inclusive framework for the empowerment of PwDs, which is aligned with the international instruments namely, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), Incheon Strategy, SDGs and new domestic laws like Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (PwD), 2016, Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and National Education Policy, 2020. The draft policy has seen a significant shift away from a charity-based approach to a rights-based one. Key areas identified for interventions are early disability identification and prevention, education, healthcare, social security, sports, culture, recreation, and accessibility. 

Key Features

The policy recognizes PwDs as valuable human resources who are equally entitled to the rights and freedoms enshrined by the constitution of India, and envisions to secure all the PwDs a productive, safe and dignified life. 

The policy is divided into 14 chapters. Its key areas of focus are changing the social mindset towards PwDs through sensitization schemes, Infusing self-esteem and self-confidence in PwDs via skill development, creating an accessible environment in built infrastructure, transportation system, ICT ecosystem etc, managing disability specific disaggregated data, ensuring interoperability of disability certificates for availing the benefits meant for PwDs across all States/ UTs, prioritizing safety of PwDs during natural/national disasters, assuring equal opportunities at work, and using Indian Sign Language as an effective mode of non verbal communication.


The policy rightfully acknowledges disability as a socio-medical issue. Henceforth, Under its prevention and intervention strategy, it moves beyond the traditional causes to include other causes of disability, like malnourishment, medical negligence, socio-cultural factors and impairment caused by disasters. It also calls for a comprehensive national programme on prevention that would include the disabilities added in the RPwD Act, 2016 and other medical conditions that are risk cases that could manifest as a disability. It further provides for developing a network of Cross Disability Early Intervention Centres (CDEICs) in every district.

It pays adequate attention to upscaling the National Health Programme to take care of disability specific healthcare needs. It proposes sign language interpreters to be deputed at every district hospital and constitution of mobile disability certification teams to make it accessible to all PwDs. It emphasizes that Disability certificates should be issued within 30 days of receipt of the application. It also suggests the states/ UTs to mandatorily comply with the RPwD Act when granting permission or recognition to educational institutions. It also provides that a module on disability should be included in MBBS and other medical courses. 

The provisions on modification of vehicles, creating a national database of PwDs and linking the data with program delivery and the Centre’s Unique Disability Identity (UDID), developing an employment portal for PwDs under the Ministry of Labour, and highlighting the need to provide a gender perspective thrust  to promote inclusion of PwDs showcases the policy’s commitment towards PwD’s empowerment. 


Despite the ambitious goals, several challenges hinder its effective implementation. Firstly, the policy still considers disability as a homogenous category. It remains vague at declaring, for example, if and how the rights of a poor illiterate woman with disability are different from that of an elderly literate bisexual PwD. 

It remains silent on ensuring political inclusion of the PwDs, and doesn’t look into providing for braille based EVMs and motorized wheelchairs for voters with disabilities.

The policy recognises disability as a cross-cutting issue requiring coordinated action. It identifies and places clear commitments on other ministries and departments, such as, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for ensuring compliance of accessibility standards and issuing accessibility guidelines. But, currently any inter-ministerial coordination is lacking. For example, on disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction, The National Disaster Management  Guidelines on hospital safety during disasters contains the principle of “sickest  first” which is an inappropriate terminology in public health emergencies for PwDs.

The policy further lacks an overarching National strategy for implementation of these guidelines. While its provisions on Universal Design have to be appreciated, there exist certain deviations in the Accessible India scheme. First, the Accessible India Campaign (AIC) only includes select first or second tier cities and does not include villages where 69.9% of the disabled people reside in India. Second, It has no convergence with the Union health ministry’s recent draft on accessibility standards for healthcare or the accessibility requirements for goods and services are also lacking in the Bureau of Indian Standards Act and the Manual for Procurement of Goods 2017 of the Union finance ministry. Furthermore, It doesn’t mention the additional barrier cost faced by divyangjan to access benefits of any scheme. 

The draft policy doesn’t lay down any definitive framework for involving PwDs in policy making, implementing and monitoring processes at the state and municipal level. Poverty alleviation programs concerning the rights of Children with special needs hasn’t been considered despite noticing how the intersection of disability and poverty puts the CWSN at a higher risk of educational-inequity in India.

Lastly, The policy doesn’t exhaustively deal with resolving India’s under-reported disability rate. The number of PwDs as per the National Commission for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People doesn’t match the NSSO data either, and both of them stand to contradict the World Bank estimates on the same.


The Draft Policy 2021, if compared to the National Policy for PwD 2006, is comprehensive and well-intended. But, until it’s followed up by qualitative on-ground actions, the vision of ‘Making the Right Real’ wouldn’t be a possible reality. It needs to be backed by appropriate budgetary allocations. The Budget 2023 has already overlooked this factor, as the budgetary allocation for the schemes for the Implementation of PwD Act (SIPDA) has seen a decline from Rs 240 Cr to a mere Rs 150 Cr

The committee needs to take into account the complex social structure of India, and consider the rights of ethnic minorities and displaced populations with disabilities too. Accessibility is a universal design agenda and is directly linked to education, employment, independent living, and dignity. Hence, special consideration should be given to acknowledge the absence of strict actions on non-compliance of the States/UTs to timely deliver services as per the accessibility indicators of AIC.

Only setting overarching goals cannot ensure the inclusion of PwD. It is crucial to operationalize the policy by deeply sensitizing the officials who’ll implement it in government and non-governmental organizations. The draft seems to contain a number of generic suggestions. Instead, each category needs to have a set of measurable, time-bound goals. 

The Introduction of this document begins with this quote by Rabindranath Tagore – “The problem is not how to wipe out the differences but how to unite with the differences intact.”  Unless the elements of capacity building & rehabilitation, awareness schemes, inclusive school curriculum, and employment opportunities for the PwDs are designed keeping in mind this quote, the inclusive development of divyangjan under the Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas ideal wouldn’t be successfully accomplished.

About Vaishnavi Shukla

Vaishnavi Shukla is a Teach for India fellow in Delhi and holds a Master’s in Political Science from the University of Delhi. Her interest lies at the intersection of policy, public health, and education.

Vaishnavi Shukla

Vaishnavi Shukla is a Teach for India fellow in Delhi and holds a Master’s in Political Science from the University of Delhi. Her interest lies at the intersection of policy, public health, and education.

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