Paucity of funds and ineffective management — reflecting the Government’s apathy — have hit hard the functioning of the National Trust (NT), a statutory body of the Union Social, Justice and Empowerment Ministry for the welfare of persons with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities in the country.
While the Government has merged various NT schemes to cut down recurring grants being doled out to the NGOs, the Trust also doesn’t have a full-time chairperson for the last three years. If this was not enough, the Union Finance Ministry is yet to look into the sector’s repeated requests to enhance the corpus fund, which continues to be just Rs 100 crore since it was set up in 1999.
“Several letters have been written to the Finance Ministry to enhance the NT’s corpus from Rs 100 crore to Rs 500-1000 crore for better management and welfare of the sector, but in vain,” lamented a senior NT official.
“It is not a happy state of affairs (insufficient funds). We are spending more than our income (interest accrued on the corpus). If funds are limited, then we have to reduce the recurring grants under various schemes, some of them now merged. Unless we get sufficient funds there cannot be better situation for the sector,” he said.
Till April, this year, the NT had overall 10 schemes. Post April, Disha, Vikash, Samarth and Gharaunda schemes have been merged. While the number of beneficiaries will remain same as in the scheme guidelines i.e. Disha - 20, Vikaas - 30, Gharaunda - 20 and Samarth - 30, the maximum number of BPL beneficiaries funded by NT will be limited to 20 BPL beneficiaries for Disha and Vikaas Schemes and 15 BPL beneficiaries for Samarth and Gharaunda.
Ignorance and fund shortage have been a regular affair. For instance, under Prerna scheme, , the budgeted Rs 10 lakh for 2017-18 was unspent as the Government found “no proposal up to the mark”. Similar was the case with the Sambhav scheme. These schemes are run through registered organisations (ROs) with National Trust.
ROs too are not happy. Said Dr Alok Kumar Bhuwan of Delhi-based Manovikas, an RO, “We are the link between the Government and the beneficiaries. However, we were not consulted before revising/merging the schemes. Not only the Government is non-serious in running the schemes, it is also making excuses that proposals are either not up to the mark or NGOs are not sending proposals.
“A look at the annual report of the Trust reveals that fund spent on seminars and workshops is on increase while it is decreasing when it comes to the schemes. Moreover, now the Government has drawn a line within the disability sector itself by categorising them into BPL and APL,” he said.
It has been revealed that most of the Trustee Board members who are not below the rank of Joint Secretary representing the Ministries or Departments of Social Justice and Empowerment, Women and Child Development, Health, Finance, Labour, Education, Urban Affairs and Employment and Rural Employment and Poverty Alleviation have never attended Board meetings for the last fifteen years, while the NT officials have been taking key decisions on their own without keeping in loop the Board members, thus defying the mandate of the statutory body.
The said Ministries too did not bother to ensure any welfare activities for the benefit of the sector in all these years.
An expert in the sector summed up, “Ironically, at a time when the Trust should have gradually increased its schemes and widened its ambit to reach out to many more people with the special needs, it is, on the contrary, reducing the expenditure and schemes.
Since its inception, the interest rates have dropped significantly and it is apparent that the reduction on earnings from the NT corpus has resulted in a reduction in expenditure on welfare schemes.”
We need to have a cess-like method which can assure a regular source of income, he suggested.