December 12, 2018
Dr Santanu Sen speaks on The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities (Amendment) Bill, 2018
Sir, thank you for the opportunity to speak on a Bill concerning the National Trust which oversees the creation of opportunities and inclusive spaces for the differently abled. The proposed amendment seeks to fix the term of the Chairperson to three years. However, it does little to ensure the independence of the Trust from bureaucratic influence. In case of a casual vacancy in the office of Chairperson, the Bill allows a bureaucrat to take over the work of Chairperson till a new appointment is made. This is extremely problematic as it dilutes the office of Chairperson, leaving it open to Government influence.
Sir, I propose that in case of a vacancy, it should be made mandatory for the government to appoint a new Chairperson within a stipulated fixed period of time. I propose the following changes to limit bureaucratic control to a maximum of five months:
As per the Statement of Objects and Reasons, it has been witnessed that despite repeated efforts to fill up the post of the Chairperson within the stipulated period, no candidate could be found suitable for appointment to the post. The National Trust Rules, 2000 also underwent an amendment in 2017 to relax the educational and professional qualifications and expand the pool of candidates. Therefore, a provision to allow for the Chairperson’s re-appointment for one more term should be inserted so that the office is not left vacant for a prolonged period.
Secondly, in the event of a casual vacancy (caused by way of death, resignation or removal from office), it is recommended that the Government be allowed to appoint an officer to perform the functions of the Chairperson until a new Chairperson is appointed. The independence of the National Trust from bureaucratic control is maintained by outlining a timeline within which the new Chairperson must be appointed – a maximum of five months. The process of making a reference to the Selection Committee, deliberations over the candidates by the Selection Committee, recommendation of names for appointment and announcement of the new Chairperson must be completed within five months.
Lastly, the Selection Committee must recommend a panel of at least two names for every vacancy referred to it in order to provide options to the Government should they find any candidate unsatisfactory for the office of Chairperson. The recommendation of a single name could lead to an abuse of the selection process to extend the Government appointee’s tenure as it could allow the Government to reject the name in order to restart the selection process and timeline.
It should be noted that merely tinkering with the procedural aspects of the National Trust will not ensure the effective implementation of its schemes. The Government must consider enhancing the corpus fund, which continues to be Rs. 100 crores since its inception. Schemes such as Niramaya, a health insurance scheme to cover medical expenses, need to be reconfigured so that a situation where Rs. 10,000 is reimbursed per year for autism-related therapies when the true cost is as high as Rs. 40,000 per month does not persist.
Sir, the State of West Bengal is committed to providing support to persons who are differently abled. In fact, we are in the process of building the first-of-its-kind autism township where residential, vocational and day-care facilities will be provided to persons on the autism spectrum.
Sir, we support the bill and welcome the legislation only if the Minister can assure us that the appointment of a bureaucrat will be for a limited time period only and the expertise of the Trust will not be undermined.