Television broadcasts of public events like the Republic Day parades or the Prime Minister's Independence Day speech will soon be accompanied by a sign language interpretation along with simplified text captions onscreen. The Centre has formed an inter-ministerial panel, and the move is likely to be brought in force in the next six months.

Officials from the ministry of social justice and development met with their counterparts in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on June 14 to discuss the issue. During the meeting, it was decided that the I&B Ministry will draft a set of guidelines to implement the changes. And a committee, comprising of officials from the social justice ministry, the I&B ministry, Doordarshan, and disability rights experts, will be formed to this end.

"In the coming days, we will convene to see what are the best practices in other countries, and ensure that no discrimination is done to anyone on the basis of their disability. There will be a fine and a punishment if rules are broken," said an official from the social justice ministry who was part of the meeting.

The move is in line with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which India became a signatory in 2007. A panel was formed by the previous UPA government for broadcasts in government-run channels like Doordarshan.

There is also a call to implement these changes in private news channels. However, it remains unclear whether the Centre is looking at extending the changes to private news channels as well. As per the 2011 Census, an estimated 2.68 crore disabled people live in India, including 1.5 crore men and 1.18 women. News channels in several European countries as well as the US have deaf sign language and hearing interpreters as well as closed text on screen.

Dr Indumathi Rao of the CBR Network says that in a country like India, it is important to have the simplified texts in a regional language. "Not many people know English and Hindi throughout the country, and so, it is important to have regional texts onscreen. A simplified text, which is a gist of what is being said can also take the message to areas with low literacy rates," said Dr Rao. – DNA India