Exemptions on EPF, insurance will boost job opportunities

After a car accident confined Shivani Gupta to a wheelchair 15 years ago, her job prospects dimmed. “There was this feeling of inhibition going for these walk-in interviews,” recalls the hotel management graduate.
Rejected for a job as a hotel telephone operator, Gupta went on to study “inclusive environment” at the University of Reading in the UK. Now, Gupta works as a consultant with the ITC Welcomgroup, and audits properties across the country to ensure they are accessible to the disabled.
Employers such as ITC would benefit from the Union Budget presented on Wednesday for extending job opportunities to people with disabilities. Under a programme outlined by finance minister P. Chidambaram, if an employer offers jobs to the physically challenged, the government will reimburse the employer’s contribution for the first three years of the Employees Provident Fund and Employees State Insurance. The salary limit will be set at Rs25,000 per month. The government hopes to create some one lakh jobs, at an annual estimated cost between Rs150 crore and Rs450 crore. Chidambaram has committed Rs1,800 crore.
The extension of benefits marks the first time—since the Persons of Disabilities Act, 1995, which ensured equal opportunity for the group—that the government has explicitly encouraged the organized sector to employ the country’s disabled, estimated at some 70 million people.
The allocation, according to social activist Javed Abidi, comes like a “breath of fresh air.” As executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, Abidi has been fighting to get the physically challenged included in the National Sample Survey, a collection of socio-economic statistics used to formulate public policy. He also has demanded access ramps in historical monuments.
Employment data for India’s disabled tells a grim story. The rate of employment of the physically challenged is as low as 0.05% among multinational companies and 0.2% in the private sector. The public sector fares slightly better at 0.5%.
Last year, the Confederation of Indian Industry, an umbrella of 6,000 companies, enacted a Corporate Code on Disability Policy for members to agree on committing 1% of jobs to the disabled. Only about 50 members have committed to meet the target.
As ITC consultant, Gupta knows the daily impediments well. She advises hotels on how to be more disabled-friendly, earning Rs22,500 per project. ITC employs 42 men and women with impairments ranging from hearing to speech defects.
In 1977, the government reserved 3% of jobs for the physically challenged, but only in so-called C and D categories, meant for menial jobs. The 1995 law allowed a handicapped person to apply for senior post in the bureaucracy.
Abidi remembers sitting outside the residence of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha to urge him to provide job opportunities to the disabled. “It was totally appalling that year,” says Abidi.
“He reduced import duty for butter but forgot to reduce the same on aids and handicap appliances,” he added.