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At last, a Budget with a social conscience?

P.T. Jyothi Datta

Mumbai , July 9

FAMILIES that have members with disabilities or children with cerebral palsy, for instance, may find some comfort in this year's Budget.

According to people working with the disability sector, for the first time in years the country's economic statement reveals a social conscience — with tax sops extended to persons suffering from autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disability, besides Customs, countervailing duty (CVD) and excise duties being completely waived from a host of rehabilitation aids.

"Path-breaking" is how Mr Javed Abidi, Executive Director of the National Center for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, described Budget 2004-05.

"We are happy since the Budget has taken a comprehensive view of the needs of the disability sector," he said.

According to disability group representatives, about 6 per cent of the Indian population has disabilities.

The Union Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, in his Budget speech, said that Section 80 (DD) and Section 80 (U) would be given to persons suffering from autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disability.

Further, he proposed that certain rehabilitation aids be fully exempt from Customs duty, excise duty and CVD. Accordingly, crutches, wheel-chairs, walking frames, artificial limbs for the disabled are to be fully exempt from Customs duty, he said. Restrictions on institutions for the visually-impaired and the hearing-impaired availing themselves of import duty exemptions are to be removed and the list of exempted appliances to be enlarged, he added.

Mr Abidi was hopeful that the next Budget would take into account two other recommendations made by disability groups — incentives for the employment of people with disabilities in the private sector and a social security initiative for disabled people.

Dr Mithu Alur, Founder Chairperson of The Spastics Society of India, however, felt that the Budget was a retrogressive one for the "inclusion of disabled people." On the issue of price reduction for wheel-chairs and other rehabilitation aids, she said: "Ninety-eight per cent of persons with disabilities are from low-income groups, who generally cannot afford wheel-chairs and crutches at any price. What is needed is wheel-chairs and aids to be provided free of cost or at highly subsidised rates."

While welcoming the cess on education, she felt that these funds would, however, not help disabled children since the allocation was to the HRD Ministry and not the Ministry of Social Justice, which handles the education of children with disabilities.

Finally, she said that establishing a college of rehabilitation for persons with disability would in fact be moving away from the "inclusion" of disabled people in the mainstream of life.

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