Govt shelves socio-economic data of PwDs as disability database goes online

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The data being shelfed includes information like socio-economic category (caste), level of education, employment status, income (personal and family) and marital status of PwDs.

The data being shelfed includes information like socio-economic category (caste), level of education, employment status, income (personal and family) and marital status of PwDs. , Photo Credit: H. Vibhu

The Union government is shelving whatever socio-economic data it had collected, while registering about 94 lakh Persons with Disabilities across the country for Unique Disability ID (UDID) cards in the last six years, NEInfo has learned. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is justifying the move by questioning the “quality” of the socio-economic data collected.

The data being shelfed includes information like socio-economic category (caste), level of education, employment status, income (personal and family) and marital status of PwDs, with officials saying the focus of the form was always to collect disability data and hence all these fields were made optional. Consequently, many skipped them.

Rajesh Aggarwal, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) of the Social Justice Ministry said, “The data are not being released because of quality issues.” When asked if the department intends to pursue collecting socio-economic data for future UDID registrations, Mr. Aggarwal said, “The basic purpose of the form is to get a disability certificate… and also, we cannot afford to make the form too lengthy by seeking information we cannot verify.”

The DEPwD earlier this week published what it called aggregated data from the around 94 lakh UDID registrations, minus the socio-economic data, with a statement alongside spelling out the objective of the project – to “create a national database for all Persons with Disabilities ( PwDs) along with their socio-economic details” so that policy-making and interventions can be targeted.

The government has not officially disclosed the exact number of people who filled in the socio-economic fields. The first UDID card was issued in January 2017.

The Center has said the aggregated UDID data were meant to influence e-commerce organizations to design their platforms in a way that increases usability and purchase cycles among PwDs. It has added that the data were collected to also help efficient allocation of resources to address the specific needs of PwDs from various communities. Further, the department said the data were supposed to influence the education sector to introduce special educators and special requirements for PwDs.

However, the fate of these objectives is now in limbo – with the government choosing not to publish the data collected through the fields of personal and family income (spouse and father), whether they were Below Poverty Line, employment status, occupation, socio- economic category (SC/ST/OBC/General), and level of education.

A senior government official told NEInfo, “For instance, marital status – only about 15% of those registered have filled it in. It is not enough data to be significant. Again, information on income, just 40% have filled it in. The department has no way to verify the extent to which this information is accurate.”

Another official aware of the programme’s implementation said that “not enough” PwDs had responded to fields such as education and socio-economic category (SC/ST/OBC/General) either, adding this was among the primary reasons for discounting this data. “On the other hand, the medical data and disability-related data are high-quality because they were verified by doctors. And since the purpose was to register people for disability certificates to make them eligible for the department’s schemes, only those fields were made mandatory,” he said.

Even among the benefits offered by the DEPwD to PwDs, four of seven are related to special education and vocational training programs, skill training and scholarships.

The data that had been released on the data.gov.in portal contains UDID information district-wise, gender-wise, age-wise, and disability type-wise (including level of disability). The government said it hoped this will help NGOs in the social sector and researchers to build physical infrastructure that is accessible for persons with specific types and levels of disabilities. This data will be updated every quarter, the government has said.

It had added that the UDID database was also meant to help design accessible websites and applications and “connect PwDs to digital India”. However, nowhere in the UDID form is any section seeking information on existing computer, mobile, and Internet usage among PwDs.

UDID efficacy in doubt

As the government’s plans to create a unified database of disability and socio-economic data for PwDs goes into cold storage, a Parliamentary panel had, earlier this year, doubted the Department’s ability to even collect accurate population data through the UDID mechanism in time.

The government had told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment that data on PwDs are largely taken from the decennial censuses conducted by the Office of the Registrar-General and sample surveys on disability conducted by the National Sample Survey of the National Statistical Office.

With the 2021 Census delayed indefinitely, the government had explained that UDID forms were meant to elicit enough information to design targeted policies for them. To this, the panel, in its July report, had said, “By the department’s own admission, it has issued 94.09 lakh UDID cards so far whereas the PwD population even 10 years ago was more than double that number.”

The government has already been under attack from experts, activists, and Opposition leaders for dropping disability-related questions from the forms issued for the sixth round of the National Family Health Survey earlier this year.

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