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THE unnecessary haste with which the devolution plan of the 18th Amendment was implemented left many critical national institutions in limbo.
Among these, the National Council for Social Welfare (NCSW), the National Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (NCRDP), and the National Trust for Disability (NTD), were put under the administrative control of the Capital Administration & Development Division in Islamabad. Unfortunately, the mandate of the CADD is limited to the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), whereas the work of these institutions pertains to the national arena.
The NCSW was set up through an ordinance in 1959, mainly to fill the gap in social services that was created by mass migration of nurses and social workers to India after 1947, while the NTD was established much later in the 1990s in response to voices from disability organisations in the country. The National Trust for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled was also established around the same time.
Due to bureaucratic languor, these institutions could not become dynamic and pro-active. However, there was a modicum of intervention by the federal government through a system of registration of NGOs working in these areas, and financial support to different organisations, including provincial governments through grants.
After the 18th Amendment, no thought was given to these organisations, and they were devolved willy-nilly, although the Constitution makes it incumbent for the federal government to ensure that social evils are eradicated from the country, and to ensure that marginalised sections of society are given their due. Article 37 specifically states that the state shall promote social justice and eradication of social evils.
Dynamic institutions are needed for disabled persons.
Article 38 says that the state shall: “(a) secure the well-being of the people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest and by ensuring equitable adjustment of rights between employers and employees, and landlords and tenants;
(b) provide for all citizens, within the available resources of the country, facilities for work and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure;
(c) provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise, social security by compulsory social insurance or other means;
(d) provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment.” [Emphasis added].
It is a pity that political governments from 1999 onwards survived without providing basic amenities and services to the public at large. The institutions mentioned shrunk further after the 18th Amendment as their mandate became limited to ICT.
Thus, despite its claims of high-flown ideals, devolution failed the marginalised peoples of Pakistan in many ways. It may even be said that it was an act of abdication of its responsibilities by the federal government because it could not handle — let alone resolve — issues of governance.
If the prerequisites of a modern state are to be met, free education, health services and support to disabled persons are the responsibility of every state; otherwise the social contract between the state and society would become invalid.
World history after the Second World War teaches us that Europe mainly survived the onslaught of socialism through its social welfare institutions. Even in the post-colonial states, the main reason for the quest for independence was that the peoples of these countries had been exploited and disenfranchised by the colonial powers, and the assumption that independence would deliver better living conditions to the natives.
Disability institutions exist at the national level in many developing countries, including South Asia, mainly to benchmark and streamline social welfare activities, regulate foreign donor funding to voluntary organisations in line with national interests, provide support to marginalised sections of society, and to monitor implementation of the national social policy objectives at an even keel across the country.
In Pakistan, the abysmal situation requires that the country should have a coherent and comprehensive social policy (as was there in 1994) with an implementation strategy supported by appropriate legislation at the national level to eradicate social evils and improve the quality of life of the marginalised sections of society.
We are a signatory to international conventions that make it mandatory for us to legislate accordingly. It is therefore imperative that all three organisations — the NCSW, NTD and the NCRDP — are placed under the administrative control of the presidency which will automatically restore their functioning on an all-Pakistan basis.
The writer is a former federal secretary.
Published in Dawn March 5th , 2015