Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Deaf Can Now Legally Drive in India

Dear Friends,

While the activists and disability rights workers are actively engaged in writing, commenting, criticizing and suggesting on the New Disability Act, this success for the deaf people of India has silently knocked their doors. I have been closely following this case filed by Human Rights Law Network since September 2009 when it was admitted (click here to read my first post in Sep, 09) after an aborted attempt on an earlier date.  

I am so delighted to share with you all that after a wait of several months(click here to read Nov 2009 post)  finally yesterday i.e. on 14th February 2011, the double bench of  Hon'ble Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, of Delhi High Court delivered their judgement. (Click here to read the judgement)

You will notice that the judgement doesn't speak a single word against the Union of India nor against the existing system of issuing licences, yet beautifully carves out a way that deaf people in India can not be discriminated against merely on the basis of their disability!

The Question in Form 1-A [which deals with medical certificate and relates to Rules 5(1), 5(3), 7, 10(a), 14(d) and 18(d)] of MV Act 1988  that was filled up by the doctor,] i.e. "In your opinion, does the applicant suffer from a degree of deafness which would prevent his hearing the ordinary sound signals? " has become irrelevant in light of this judgement! 

The Hon'ble Judges have, without making any comment on the  stand /defence of the Government of India in the case, simply reproduced the same to amuse the readers. I am reproducing  the  major defences of the Government of India for your amusement. For your information these defences are  based on a conclusion of a meeting of all relevant officials from various ministries including Road Transport, Health etc:

(i) Indian roads have far more hazards than in those countries which have been referred to in the petition.  This is evident from the fact that there is highest number of road facilities worldwide occurring due to road crash in India.  Indian roads have dense vehicle population.  The pattern of driving is also mix.  Besides, there is also lack of traffic discipline.  While using the roads, it is predominantly required to give audio signal to the vehicles around to caution other drivers or for giving way.  Such situations are not seen in developed countries.
(ii) Use of rear view mirror may not be a full proof solution because vehicles often are not fitted with such mirrors on both sides. Even if they are fitted on the vehicle, the users often fold them back.
(iii) In case of hilly roads, it is mandatory to blow horn on the sharp as well as blind corners.  The driver would be in a dangerous position if he is unable to hear the audio signal.

(iv) While driving the vehicle, inside noise, such as running of engine, tyre noise etc. is an indicator for the health and safety of the vehicle.  The deaf person will be in an unsafe situation because he will not be able to gather these signals.

(v) Luxury vehicles are often fitted with audio systems.  Loud music inside the vehicle may pose unsafe situation but purely by the choice of the driver and hence, cannot be made a ground for allowing deaf persons to drive.
(vi) The UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities does not qualify the extent of deafness.
(vii) In developed countries, there is a system for imparting training to deaf people in order to obtain driving licence.  There is no such system prevalent in the country.

(viii) International Driving Permit is valid for one year only and thereafter even a foreign national is required to obtain the driving licence afresh as per the existing rules and regulations in the country.  Thus, analogy given in this regard between the foreign national and Indian national is not correct.
(ix) Every year a large number of accidents took place in the country involving motor vehicles on roads.  Many of them prove to be fatal.  During the year 2007 alone, there were around 4.8 lakhs road accidents which killed around 1.15 lakh people and injured more than 5 lakhs person in India.  While the Government has been making all efforts to bring down the rate of accidents substantially, it cannot afford to take the risk of endangering the lives of deaf drivers as well as other road users.

And finally this Committee opined:  "Hearing levels up to 60 db with use of hearing aid in better ear may be permitted for issue of driving licence for private vehicle and hearing level up to 40 db with hearing aid in better ear may be permitted for issue of driving licence for commercial vehicle.  Persons suffering with severe and persistent vertigo should not be issued a driving licence."

This was like only reiterating what existed earlier!

The Judges in the operative para of the judgement categorically stated the statutory requirement,  "However, we are obliged to certify that if an applicant is totally deaf, he has to be called for the test if he applies for a learner‘s licence without the medical certificate and if he passes the test as required under Rule 11, he  shall be granted the learner‘s licence as that is the statutory requirement.   Similarly, if a person belonging to the said category satisfies the necessary  criteria, he shall be allowed to obtain the licence."

The judges refrained from making any comment on the important issues raised in the writ petition or criticizing the government action. Also they refused to take liberty to enter the domain of legislature on the prayer of changing the policy on the subject and said insegregable facet of the basic structure of the Constitution of India. 

This gives sufficient indication to the Government of India to appropriately change their discriminatory and restrictive practices against persons with hearing impairment. We hope the Government will take appropriate steps to set the malady right.

At my personal level, being a lawyer, I was looking for some strong words from the Hon'ble Court on the conduct of the so called committee of technical people who opined that the deaf can be danger to public without even appreciating the documents on record! However, the court did not comment on any issue that could have directly targeted any government official.

So, silently the purpose has been achieved. I hope the systemic changes will also take place and Deaf people will not be harassed while seeking valid licences.  

Now a passing remark from a stakeholder, "At least now deaf people would be able to drive legally with valid driving licence. Who bothers about going and taking a driving test, when driving licences can be bought through middlemen without even going to RTO in other states, if not in Delhi!"

The jobs doesn't end here. After this judgement, the major work is to spread the word around about this judgement and get the relevant rules changed in all states and union territories across the length and breadth of India. The DPOs and activists have this major role to perform. I want to congratulate my senior colleague Shri Collin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate, Mr. Pankaj Sinha, Advocate and their team for so successfully taking up this case which is almost like re-writing the rules of equality - at least for deaf people of this country. I am sure, my friend Arun Rao and friends from National Association of the Deaf would agree to this. Congratulations to one and all!

regards
SC Vashishth
Advocate, Disability Rights

Read newspaper coverage in Hindustan Times at link: 


Hearing impaired can drive: HC

Harish V Nair, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 15, 2011
In a landmark judgment benefiting 50 million people in the country, the Delhi high court on Monday said people with hearing impairment can also drive.

If they meet the necessary criteria and pass the test, they will be given driving licences and allowed to drive, the high court said.

Hitherto, deaf were barred from appearing in driving tests as the archaic Motor Vehicles Act considered them a source of danger to the public.

A bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra said, “Even if an applicant is totally deaf, he has to be called for a test. Even if he applies for a learner’s licence without a medical certificate and clears the test, he should be granted a learner’s licence. 

The order comes in a two-year-old PIL by the National Association of Deaf seeking direction to allow them to obtain a driving licence.

Human rights activist and lawyer Colin Gonsalves who argued the case on the behalf of the deaf said: “It is a historic judgement. Till now, deaf was presumed to be incapable of driving and were automatically debarred from even sitting for a test. He said deaf are allowed to drive all over the world, except in 26 countries.

Defending denial of license to deaf, the Centre cited the prevailing road manners in India and the frightening accident rate, the highest in the world. It said a special meeting of Central Motor Vehicles Rules- technical standing committee convened on December 9, 2010, which considered the PIL, had reaffirmed the decision. Court, however, refused to direct special conditions permitted by other countries for grant of licence to deaf saying it was the duty of the legislature.



2 comments:

HIWINNET REPORTER said...

Good analysis
I am very grateful for your work, keep it up.
In Eritrea we are working hard to overcome any challenges to secure their right full law and permission to make it a reality.
Jonathan- Eritrea

raman moorthy said...

Thanks.
All the best.