By Ms Lillian D’Costa
Ignorance and helplessness are reasons why the disabled fall victims of corruption.
Corruption is nothing new in India; Transparency International has India 70 in a list of 163 countries surveyed in the 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, where India scored a mere 3.3 and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) aren’t escaping this scourge.
PWDs have long been complaining that interacting with government departments is becoming increasingly frustrating due to constant demand for bribes. They cite numerous incidents of how they get harangued.
For example, PWDs are in periodic need of medical certificates to prove their disability, whether it is to get an educational scholarship, apply for the disability pension, apply for a driving license, book a railway ticket or get a soft loan.
The medical certificate needs a doctor’s assent and for this a PWD would have to pay anywhere between Rs 50 in Davangere district of Karnataka to Rs 200 in a prominent hospital in Bangalore. When one calculates that 75 per cent of PWDs live in rural areas you will realise that the 70 million strong disability population is paying a rather heavy purse in bribes to the medical fraternity, only to get their medical certificates.
Most PWDs will also tell you that if you are willing to pay the right amount you can actually dictate the degree of disability you want in the certificate. In an interesting event, angry with the doctors of the district hospital, members of a Taluk Disability Federation in Kolar decided to trap the doctor. They thus got the same person to get two certificates stating two different degrees of disability on the same day, one certificate before paying the bribe and one after paying the bribe to the doctor.
They then used the certificates to file a complaint with the State Disability Commissioner. Amazingly, when the case came up, it was the complainant who was given a stern warning and sent off. Why? Because he bribed the doctor!
Another major scam is how postmen take Rs 5 on every Rs 100 they deliver as pension to PWDs. In Kolar, people are known to pay as much as Rs 150 every three months for Rs 600 they receive. Naturally, this is appaling as it means that Rs 4 to 5 crore of the annual Rs 90 crore the department of disability welfare spends as pension to PWDs is going into the pockets of unscrupulous postmen.
As if this was not bad enough, some of the postmen actually had the gall to justify that the “tiny fee” they were collecting was going to build a new post office. Illiterate and poverty ridden, these poor PWDs in rural areas are helpless; they would rather pay the Rs 5 and get the rest rather than not get anything at all. Those who attempt to complain are abused and thrown out of government offices.
Of course, it is cheaper to pay a bribe than, to take leave from work, arrange private conveyance from remote villages, plead somebody to accompany and come 10 times to the district hospital or the respective office only to wait in a long queue to get a doctor’s signature on the medical certificate.
However, one of the prime reasons why PWDs are conned and cheated into paying bribes is their high level of ignorance of the law. Access to information seems the key, but despite computerisation of records by the government and the fact that internet is turning into a big pool of information, only a small minority of PWDs actually have access to it.
No doubt the Right to Information Act is a big boost towards bringing about transparency, but PWDs are yet to use this Act effectively. The prevailing situation will see a dramatic change when grievance redressal systems within each department are publicised, when grievances are redressed in a speedy manner and when people are informed that they have a right and therefore must complain. Organisations like the Lokayukta should also continue to create awareness about their role and make it easier for PWDs to file complaints.
This article appeared in the Deccan Herald on 2nd February 2007