05 May

The case of unwanted affidavits – Obtaining disability certificates

The Government of India provides pensions to differently-abled citizens of India. This is a powerful welfare program which ensures that they are supported by our society to live with dignity.

Process: The first step into utilizing any of these welfare programs is to obtain disability certificates. Disability certificates are documents provided by our government which quantifies a person’s disability. A medical board comprising 3-4 experts sits at every district hospital once a week. They screen citizens who claim to be differently-abled and provide a number in the range of 0 to 100 to each such candidate. In cases where the board concludes that the person’s condition is fixable, no number is provided and instead, interventions like physiotherapy and medication are prescribed.

Any citizen who feels s/he deserves such a certificate is free to submit an application and get her/himself evaluated by such a medical board. The documents required to submit such an application are simply a proof of residence and two passport sized photographs. Seva Setu helps mobilize people who’re unaware of this process and facilitates this process for them.

Simple as it sounds, some district hospitals which we work with demands an additional document when submitting an application – an affidavit. District hospitals in some districts have made this additional document a compulsory document to apply.

A sample affidavit

A sample affidavit

We strongly oppose this requirement for the following reasons –

An artificial requirement: This is not mentioned in the circulars sent out by the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare. which state the requirements clearly (see image). Neither is it enforced consistently. Some district hospitals, such as the one in Patna, do not ask for this requirement. Moreover, we oppose the justification in having such an affidavit, to begin with. The affidavit requires a person to attest that s/he indeed is differently abled, is in need of a certificate, and promises that s/he has not applied for such certificates before. The first two points are facts which the medical board would eventually evaluate and ascertain. The third does not really demand a sworn affidavit. A self-attestation should also be equally valid. In fact, Delhi’s High Court only recently removed the requirement of affidavits completely!

A government circular clearly stating the requirements to apply for a disability certificate

A government circular clearly stating the requirements to apply for a disability certificate

A financial burden: More importantly, it is a significant financial burden on citizens. The process to obtain a disability certificate, and thereafter obtaining pensions is certainly an involved one. A beneficiary ends up visiting the district hospital at least 3-4 times before s/he finally receives her/his certificate. Each such visit costs INR 200 to and fro, considering that the person typically travels from far off blocks/taluks of the district to the district hospital. An additional requirement in such a case is the affidavit, which costs upwards of INR 200. At Seva Setu, we have spoken to multiple notaries to get them to charge a “nominal” fee of INR 190 to people we facilitate. But any layperson visiting them is charged between INR 200-300.

A complicated process: Those not being facilitated by an organization like ours go through a hard time getting their work done. Nowhere is this requirement clearly mentioned at the district hospitals which impose this. A person has to ask around to figure out the requirement. Once figured out, the affidavit creation process is generally not even in the premises of the hospital. One has to travel to a court-house complex or any such public administration office to obtain such a document. All this is to be done in a time interval of two hours – the window that’s provided by the hospitals to accept applications for disability. Past this interval, beneficiaries have to wait a week to try the same process again.

Next steps

We, at Seva Setu, are trying things on multiple fronts to quash this seemingly artificial requirement. We have seen success previously in this regard – late last year, we had worked with the district hospital in West Champaran and got the Civil Surgeon (the highest authority in a district) to quash this requirement. But this happened thanks to paperwork initiated by organizations who had worked in this regard much before we realized this issue, making our job easier. In our current effort to quash this requirement in Vaishali, we have written letters to the Civil Surgeon, are in the process of meeting him in person and have also raised this issue with Bihar’s public grievance redressal system. We will keep our readers posted on our progress in removing this requirement.

Meanwhile, in our series of posts on our on-ground advocacy efforts, we shall discuss other discrepancies we face in our day-to-day operations. Stay tuned!

11 Apr

Visitors at Seva Setu

Say hello to Ujjval Pamnani, a research engineer with an education-technology company. Having been through our posts for a while now, Ujjval decided to spend a short break from his work at our Patna office. He wanted to understand how we operate and how we are able to affect the last-mile.

Ujjval spent three days visiting various villages in both, Phulwari and Rajapakar blocks of Patna and Vaishali district respectively. Here’s a brief summary of his visit –

  • He participated in a Village, Health, Nutrition and Sanitation day at a village. He noticed both, the effectiveness of having such a government program and some limitations in its implementation.
  • He audited our Citizen Care program, where he saw first hand the poor utilization of government pension schemes. He got to talk to families to get a sense of where the pain points were.
  • He saw how, through our Each one, Reach one program, we ensured that mothers at the last-mile were provided basic health care. He visited mothers in villages who had been contacted by our call champions and who were being suggested to carry out simple interventions to improve their and their children’s health.
  • He spent time at our stitching training and production centers. He saw how we generate employment in the ecosystem by engaging with women from rural and semi-urban areas.

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He had some sharp observations on how to make such interventions sustainable. We had very informed discussions on what small changes can be brought about in existing systems to produce tangible results. This experience also led him to raise several fundamental questions as to why the inequity in our current society is so stark. We will soon have a guest post from Ujjval on his observations and learnings ūüôā

We hope these experiences will lead him to bring about concrete and positive change for the masses.

From team Seva Setu — all the best, Ujjval!

18 Feb

On-ground issues – Seva Setu’s advocacy efforts

One of Seva Setu’s strengths is we keep our noses to the grindstone on the various issues we address. In the course of our field work, we unearth plenty of discrepancies which dent the spirit and letter of the guidelines which should drive such work.

Through a series of posts, we will write¬†on issues which come up in implementing well-meaning schemes of the government. We want to pick each case and dive deeper into it. This effort will be accompanied by advocacy attempts on-field, by meeting officers in the departments concerning these discrepancies. We want others in this field, who’re finding their own way through these little hurdles, to be able to learn as much from our experiences, efforts, and mistakes.
We will cover the following topics and programs:
  • The curious case of the affidavit: Applying for a disability certificate entails a common man to submit a proof of residence and two photographs. However, we face an unusual requirement in some of the blocks we work in – the requirement to file an affidavit in addition to these documents. Officials at some district hospitals (where disability certificates are prepared) demand an affidavit signed by a public notary which confirms (once again) the identity of the person. The process to acquire such a certificate doesn’t even require the beneficiary to be physically present. What’s worse, notaries charge 200 INR per affidavit that’s provided. This requirement of an affidavit is not mentioned in any official document and are now fighting tooth and nail to remove this process.
  • Assessment of differently able people: The department of empowerment of persons with disabilities lays out guidelines to assess the differently able. These parameters are used to provide certificates by the government, which are then used as documents to provide benefits such as pensions etc. What we’ve found in our work, however, are seemingly unjustified decisions being made by medical boards when they assess a person’s disability. Does this point to subjectivity in the guidelines, a lack of sufficient training regarding the guidelines or more?
  • Shortage of equipment:¬†Most of our visits to the composite regional centers, those centers which disburse equipment to the differently¬†able, almost always are short of the equipment needed. We don’t have an answer to why this is the case. We also observe that the popular model used by the government in disbursing such equipment is by conducting camps. Why is this the case? Why is there a constant shortage in the equipment required to be present at the CRCs?
  • Mental health: Diagnosis and treatment of mental health related illnesses remain¬†to be unexplored in Indian healthcare. Unfortunately, there seem to be a disproportionately small number of rehabilitation centers, places which serve as care homes for those with mental illnesses, in India. Why is the number this low? What should be the right number? We discuss some challenges in our on-field work in this space.
These are some of the topics we’ll start looking into.
Stay tuned.
29 Jan

Updates from Republic Day – All differently able in 3 Panchayats have their disability certificates

As part of its citizen care program, Seva Setu ensures that the differently¬†able receive government’s pensions. As per our government’s reports and our own field surveys, we have analyzed that more than 50% of the differently able do not have disability certificates (a document needed to process their pensions). We take active steps to ensure that each differently able person is first identified through extensive surveys, from every village in the blocks/districts that we work in. We then ensure that all such people receive their disability certificates and if applicable, their pensions as well.

We are pleased to inform you that in Bihar’s Vaishali district that we’ve been active in, three panchayats – which comprise of roughly 50 villages, now have no differently-able people without a disability certificate! ūüôā We have ensured that all those we surveyed have got these documents processed. This was our target for November-December, 2016. We have now streamlined many of our operations to get these pensions facilitated. We hope to aggressively chase other Panchayats and blocks as well. Full steam ahead!

An update from this year’s Republic day –¬†

Republic day is celebrated every year to commemorate the day when the constitution of India came into force in 1950. ¬†Our constitution provides a guideline for every citizen of this country to live his/her life with dignity. To accentuate this underlying principle of our constitution, Composite Regional Centre (CRC), Patna organized a camp for the differently-able in Hajipur (Vaishali). The camp was organized to provide necessary equipment to the differently-able in Bihar’s Vaishali district. Seva Setu has already been working to help the differently-abled people of the region in getting the required documents prepared to avail CRC benefits. The camp by the CRC was an opportunity for us to expedite this process for the beneficiaries.

After going through various procedures including document verification and medical check-ups, four hearing impaired people from our survey got hearing-aids. The market price of this high-quality hearing aid ranges from ‚āĻ3,000 to ‚āĻ4,000. The apparent elation and excitement of the beneficiaries and their family members after getting the hearing-aid was, for Seva Setu, a true celebration of the 68th¬†Republic Day.

To know about the exact numbers from our survey/work, please visit – http://sevasetu.org/disability_care

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24 Jan

Seva Setu at BIT Mesra

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The Gandhi Fellowship program is an annual fellowship which encourages young citizens of India to try out social entrepreneurship. They have a residential program where they teach young citizens the realities of bringing about changes at the last-mile.

The good folks at the fellowship program invited Seva Setu for an expert talk at their annual visit to the Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, one of the top-rated technology universities in India. They wanted us to share our experiences with the ‘nascent young minds of tomorrow’. Specifically, they wanted to know what inspired us to get started with our work; being primarily from an engineering background, how our core team makes use of our technical skills in solving problems in the social domain; and what are the key skills we look for when we hire folks on our team.

It was a fun day overall! It was a young audience who had very little exposure to the concept of social enterprises. They confronted some hard questions Рas to what would stop their heads from doing what their hearts say. Seva Setu also showed them a flavor of the severity of problems which are prevalent at the last-mile and the kind of innovations that one can come up with in bringing about measurable changes. Towards the end of the talk, they went back being made aware of the tangible, not-so-less-traversed-anymore career choice of being social entrepreneurs.

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