CHENNAI: There are no dearth of challenges for the persons with disability (PwD). Notwithstanding their constant struggle for inclusivity and accessibility in every sphere of interaction with a third party – private and public – minor relief comes in the form of jobs, welfare schemes, benefits, discounts etc, guaranteed by the State government.
While eligibility criteria to avail them changes with every State, to bring about uniformity in accessing them and ensuring these benefits reach PwDs directly, the Union government introduced the Unique Disability Identity (UDID) – a universal identity card specifically for the disabled community – in 2017. Fast forward to 2022, including two-plus years of the pandemic, you have a whack-a-mole of problems.
To begin with, thousands of PwDs across the State are still awaiting delivery of their UDIDs, some for several years. Most of them have generated an online ID (e-UDID) but given the nature of rules and regulations, they require a hard copy of the ID for its intended use. Authorities say that their applications may have been rejected, and of course, blame the pandemic for delay in delivery.
The blame-game has left PwDs fuming, and rightly so, especially considering that Chief Minister MK Stalin had recently instructed officials of the Commissionerate for the Welfare of the Differently-abled Persons to issue UDID cards for all disabled people.
The wait continues…
George Abraham, a disability rights activist, said that the UDID cards, after being issued by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment (MSJE), were sent for printing to Chennai. Once printed, these cards are dispatched by the India Post to PwD.
“The MSJE issued my e-UDID on January 7 this year and sent it for printing immediately. The UDID portal in mid-February informed me that my card was printed and dispatched by post. But I’m still waiting to receive the hard copy of my card. When I called the relevant department at MSJE, nobody answered the phone,” he said.
This is not an isolated problem. There are hundreds of PwDs in the State waiting for their cards for more than 3 years.
Says R Jayakumar, a resident of Madipakkam, “I applied for UDID two years ago. My card was sent for printing, but it was never dispatched. I haven’t received it till date.”
To be eligible for a UDID card, a disabled person must have a disability certificate issued by the respective State they reside in. That’s a non-negotiable criterion to apply for UDID on MSJE’s website. If the application is accepted, an online UDID is generated, which is later printed and dispatched to the individual.
A lack of hard copy of UDID has put many disabled people at a disadvantage, as they’ve been missing out on job reservations and entrance exam reservations.
Vaishnavi Jayakumar, member of the Disability Rights Alliance (DRA), and co-founder of The Banyan, says that after the e-UDID was issued, the tender was given to a private vendor for printing and dispatch. “As per regulations, the cards are being sent to the Differently Abled Welfare Office in each district and then dispatched through registered post. However, other cards are being sent through ordinary post that do not have a system of tracking the delivery,” she points out.
Since the process of certification and assessment is time-consuming even before applying for the UDID, Vaishnavi adds the lack of clarity on UDID is frustrating. “After all the laborious process of applying for the card, those who haven’t received the card don’t have the option to reapply, as they already have an e-UDID. Plus, there’s no system designed to reapply. So now, there’s this never-ending wait,” she laments.
While the Government is all about crunching pennies, Vaishnavi adds that it wouldn’t have cost anything for the Government to share applicants’ details and contact numbers to the post office.
“The post office’s tracking system is very efficient; it can not only register the details, but it also sends updates on the processing of the application to the contact number. Regular updates always help anyone,” she adds.
Blame it on the pandemic
An official from the State Commissionerate says that the cards were being dispatched directly to the address of the individuals until the pandemic hit. But due to logistical challenges, a bunch of these cards were sent to the respective district officers of the Differently-abled Welfare Office in 38 districts.
“Since its’ introduction in 2017, UDID cards were dispatched to an individual’s address directly, but that was before the pandemic,” the official explains. “For the last two-plus years, it was difficult to reach applicants on the given address, so we sought the help of many NGOs’ for distribution of cards.”
The official also clarifies that printing and dispatch was always handled by the Government of India. “So, we don’t have a system to track the delivery of the cards. We’re involved only in verification of the online application and generation of e-UDID cards,” he avers. “Printing and dispatch of the cards is given to a particular printing agency in every State, and that’s nominated by the MSJE.”
In Tamil Nadu, that job was given to Versatile Card Technology, which dismisses all allegations that the delay in delivery was their fault.
“We have dispatched all the cards we printed,” says TS Sridhar, CEO-Veratile.
Out of the 1.70 lakh cards generated in the last 1 year, how many have been dispatched? “That’s proprietary information. Dispatch details cannot be disclosed to you,” he retorts.
Going back to direct delivery?
While activists and PwDs overall, understand and appreciate the operational challenges due to the pandemic, the lack of clarity on how to fix the problem or the time it’d take to resolve it worries them.
However, a senior official at the Commissionerate clarifies that the previous process of direct dispatch of the cards will be adopted from now on.
“It’s under discussion and will be implemented soon. Individuals can track the application online. A delay in printing of the cards or the postal delivery system is inevitable, but we don’t foresee any other problem,” the official states. “Some cards will be retained by the department if the applicant’s address has changed, as the latter would then have to update the current address.”
Process of application
According to the Commissionerate for the Welfare of the Differently-abled, there are 3 mandatory requirements for the UDID card generation. First, applicants must apply for the UDID with a recent photograph, disability certificate and proof of address. If the uploaded documents are not as per standard requirements, the application will be rejected. Applications are scrutinised by 2 officials before accepting, including a doctor and a verifier. Status of the application is reflected on the MSJE’s site. Applicants can check for the status by logging in with their credentials. Over 3.10 lakh UDID cards have been generated in the State until 28 July 2021, and 1.70 lakh cards have been generated in the past one year. However, the department does not have a tracking of the UDID cards dispatched.