Clockwise: Rashed Khan Menon, Shamsul Alam, Laila Jasmin Banu, Shafiqul Islam
Clockwise: Rashed Khan Menon, Shamsul Alam, Laila Jasmin Banu, Shafiqul Islam

There is the National Action Policy 1995 for the rights of the disabled, the Disabled People's Rights and Protection Act 2013, regulations to implement the act in 2015 and the 2018 National Action Plan for the Disabled. However, the implementation of these laws, regulations and action plan is slow. There is no budget for the implementation of the laws and the plans. There is also a lack of coordination and monitoring by the government on the overall implementation of the various programmes in this regard.

These views were expressed by speakers at a virtual roundtable on Thursday. The roundtable, 'National Action Plan on Disability: The present situation and the way forward,' was organised jointly by Prothom Alo, NGDO, NCDW and ADD International, with support by the European Union.

Speakers at the discussion said that there should be a separate directorate and ministry to ensure the rights of the disabled. They said the matter of disabled persons' rights must be properly included in the eighth five-year plan and the negative mindset concerning disabled persons must be changed. The discussants pointed out how disabled persons were deprived of healthcare, relief and other facilities.

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Chief guest of the virtual roundtable, Rashed Khan Menon, presently chairman of the parliamentary standing committee of the social welfare ministry and formerly minister for social welfare, said, "We make plans, but do not implement them. It's all on paper, but not in practice."

Member of parliament Rashed Khan Menon said there was a conflict between the social welfare ministry and the National Foundation for the Development of Disabled Persons over setting up a separate directorate for disabled persons. Despite having the political will, the officials in the concerned ministries of the government were not conscious about the rights of the disabled. And the budget to implement the various programmes was inadequate.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum made the opening presentation at the roundtable. Assistant editor Firoz Choudhury moderated the event. Arafat Sultana was the interpreter in sign language.

Presenting the keynote at the roundtable, disability and development consultant Nafeesur Rahman said that though the 2018 action plan had been approved, its implementation was disheartening. There was no reflection of the action plan's implementation in the national budget.

He said that according to the law, the district committees were basically the guardians of disabled people. However, these committees were not carrying out their responsibilities. The national level meetings were also not being held on time. There was no secretariat to carry out the secretarial responsibilities for the implementation, supervision and monitoring of the action plan.

Special guest at the discussion, member of the planning commission's general economic division, senior secretary Shamsul Alam, said that the eighth five-year plan was in the last stages of finalisation. He said that the recommendations of the roundtable would be particularly helpful to specifically highlight the matter of rights of the disabled in the five-year plan.

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Special guest, programme manager (governance and human rights) of the European Union Bangladesh delegation, Laila Jasmin Banu, said that the alongside implementing the national action plan and stepping up coordination of the various government programmes, there was need to increase monitoring and the budget.

The government has no study on the skills of various disabled persons. Of the social welfare ministry's 54 functions, one deals with the rights of the disabled, and so we can't approach them. Where will we go?
Saidul Huq, President of the National Disabled Forum

Bangladesh's country director of ADD International, Md Shafiqul Islam, said that in order to ensure rights of the disabled, there was need to increase awareness concerning the UN convention, national laws and the action plan. He placed importance of the need for accurate statistics concerning disabled persons, meaningful discussion in parliament on the issue of disability and also for a directorate to be set up in this connection.

Centre for Disability and Development's executive director AHM Noman Khan said, various ministries of the government were responsible for implementing the action plan but these ministries didn't even have copies of the plan. The ministries were working in a disorganised manner regarding rights of the disabled, not in keeping with the visions and details of the action plan.

President of the National Disabled Forum, sight-impaired Saidul Huq said, "The national coordination committee was supposed to have had 14 meetings from 2013 to 2020, but only 2 were held. The government has no study on the skills of various disabled persons. Of the social welfare ministry's 54 functions, one deals with the rights of the disabled, and so we can't approach them. Where will we go?"

Country director of Sightsavers International, Amrita Rozario, said a census will be carried out in 2021. Those carrying out the census must be trained about disabled persons. The questions of the census must be designed to address the disabled so that no one is left out.

Executive director of Women with Disabilities Foundation, Ashrafunnahar Mishti, said most of the disabled women were suffering acutely during the coronavirus pandemic. She said, “Even in the year 2020, there is no specialised hospital or bus service for us.”

Access Bangladesh Foundation’s executive director Molla Albert said that the government has been unable to submit the report to the UN committee for the implementation of the UN Convention in time. And disabled persons are not being included in the preparing of the report.

The committee meetings at a district and upazila level regarding implementation of the law, are held on the second or third floor of the buildings, making access impossible for disabled persons, said Nasima Akhter, president of the National Council for Disabled Women.

General secretary of the Protobondhi Nagorik Sangathaner Parishad (Council for the Society of Disabled Citizens), Salma Mahbub, said disabled persons must be viewed with respect and the social welfare ministry must listen to their views.

DPO engagement officer (inclusion works project) of the International Disability Alliance), Rezaul Karim Siddiqui, said it was essential that the laws be implemented to realise the rights of the disabled.

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