Wednesday, December 28, 2016

RPWD Bill 2016 & the Right to Reservation in Promotion for Employees with Disabilities

Dear Colleagues,

Please refer to my earlier post dated July 1, 2016 titled 'Supreme Court says Section 33 entitles reservation for employees with disabilities in promotion in Group A,B,C and D alike'. Subsequently on 15th Dec 2016, the Hon'ble Supreme Court rejected the Review Petition filed by the DoPT against the judgement thereby making the its said judgement final.


Meanwhile, the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016 has been passed by the Rajya Sabha (14 Dec 2016) and the Lok Sabha (16 Dec 2016) with over 119 amendment in the 2014 bill. Let me come straight to the concerned section dealing with the employment. I reproduce the concerned sections from 1995 Act and 2016 Bill below which clarifies things:


Extracts from PWD Act of 1995


32. Appropriate Governments shall--

(a) Identify posts, in the establishments, which can be reserved for the persons with disability;
(b) At periodical intervals not exceeding three years, review the list of posts identified and up-date the list taking into consideration the developments in technology.

33. Every appropriate Government shall appoint in every establishment such percentage of vacancies not less than three per cent. for persons or class of persons with disability of which one per cent. each shall be reserved for persons suffering from-

(i) Blindness or low vision;
(ii) Bearing impairment;
(iii) Loco motor disability or cerebral palsy, in the posts identified for each disability: 
Provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type of work carried on in any department or establishment, by notification subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such notification, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.'

Extract from RPWD Bill 2016



'33. The appropriate Government shall—
(i) identify posts in the establishments which can be held by respective category of persons with benchmark disabilities in respect of the vacancies reserved in accordance with the provisions of section 34;
(ii) constitute an expert committee with representation of persons with benchmark disabilities for identification of such posts; and
(iii) undertake periodic review of the identified posts at an interval not exceeding three years

34. (1) Every appropriate Government shall appoint in every Government establishment, not less than four per cent. of the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength in each group of posts meant to be filled with persons with benchmark disabilities of which, one per cent. each shall be reserved for persons with benchmark disabilities under clauses (a), (b) and (c) and one per cent. for persons with benchmark disabilities under clauses (d) and (e), namely:—

(a) blindness and low vision;
(b) deaf and hard of hearing;
(c) locomotor disability including cerebral palsy, leprosy cured, dwarfism, acid attack victims and muscular dystrophy;
(d) autism, intellectual disability, specific learning disability and mental illness;
(e) multiple disabilities from amongst persons under clauses (a) to (d) including 35 deaf-blindness in the posts identified for each disabilities:

Provided that the reservation in promotion shall be in accordance with such instructions as are issued by the appropriate Government from time to time:

Provided further that the appropriate Government, in consultation with the Chief Commissioner or the State Commissioner, as the case may be, may, having regard to the type of work carried out in any Government establishment, by notification and subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such notifications exempt any Government establishment from the provisions of this section.'

The problem areas

The interpretation of this section 33 of the Act of 1995 meant that reservation in promotion was available to employees with disabilities in all groups i.e. ABC& D as held by Hon’ble Supreme Court on 09 Oct 2013 in 'Union of India Vs. National Federation of Blind' wherein court directed Govt. of India and State Governments to compute 3% reservation for persons with disabilities in all groups of posts against the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength. The Hon'ble Court also laid down that the computation had to be done in an identical manner in respect of all groups of posts as was being done for Gp C & D earlier. Subsequently, the Hon'ble Supreme Court vide its judgement dated 10 Dec 2013 in a case titled as MCD Vs. Manoj Kumar Gupta upheld a judgment of Hon'ble Delhi High court which declared that Section 33 of the Disabilities Act 1995, provided for reservation in promotion for persons with disabilities in Groups A and B also. Again in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 521/2008 titled Rajeev Kumar Gupta and Others Versus Union of India and Others court held that reservation in promotion has to be given in Gp A & B posts under section 33. 

Despite clear writing on the wall on the issue of reservation in promotion for persons with disabilities after the Supreme Court's clarification, the bill negates the judgement. It relegates the right to reservation in promotion to a provisio  where it is left with the appropriate governments to issue instructions from time to time! I would say this bill takes away reservation in promotion from the PwDs in a clandestine manner and leaves this to the mercy of the states who have never been serious about implementing the benevolent legislation.


A National Consultation on the RPWD Bill on 29-30 Dec 2016 in Delhi

The above is one example, there are host of others that we find are negating the rights of persons with disabilities and also these are not in conformity with the UNCRPD to which this Bill claims to align with. Lawyers, activists, persons with disabilities will put their mind to the Bill and analyse where its goes wrong and how can this be corrected to ensure that rights of persons with disabilities are not taken away under the garb of legislation. We invite you to this consultation that starts tomorrow. For more details please visit the page 'Invitation for National Consultation on RPWD Bill 2016 on 29-30 Dec 2016 at New Delhi'  


Will look forward to meeting and interacting with many of you tomorrow & day after.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Hyderabad HC Permits Blind Advocate To Take Judicial Service Exam pending his Writ Petition

Dear Colleagues,


This time, Mr. Arepalli Naga Babu, a visually-challenged IDIA scholar from Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, has yet again strengthened the well-known belief that the only disability in life is lack of will and fortitude. Acting on his petition, the Hyderabad High Court has directed the authorities to accept his application and permit him to write the Judicial Service Exam to be held on 27th of November 2016, which he was denied earlier. 

The court also directed that he be allowed to take the examination in a separate room with the assistance of a scribe and be granted 20 minutes extra for every hour to compensate for the disability. A division bench comprising Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice A. Shankar Narayana affirmed that he cannot be denied participation in the selection process under the open category merely on account of his handicap (blindness) and stated that ‘there does not appear to be any prohibition in the Andhra Pradesh State Judicial Service Rules 2007 prohibiting visually-challenged candidates from participating in the selection process for appointment to the posts in the AP State Judicial Service’. 

Naga Babu, a law graduate from National Law University, Odisha, and a practising advocate of the high court, said the exam notification issued for the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana Judicial Services Exam confined the benefit of reservation only to the orthopedically handicapped and excluded the visually impaired persons. He stated that after he applied for the exam, he was informed that his application would be rejected as he was not entitled to write the exam and is neither eligible for reservation as per the rules.

Read more at: http://www.livelaw.in/hyderabad-hc-permits-visually-challenged-idia-scholar-naga-babu-take-judicial-service-exam/

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Right to Dignity - a Consititutional Right of the Female Disabled Employee will Prevail over Employer's Right to Take Work, says Kerala HC [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

Here is a classic case where the Indian Railways has been wasting the exchequer's money in unnecessary legal battle against a female disabled employee who was seeking protection under section 47 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of  Rights & Full Participation) Act 1995 since the year 2002.

Brief history
 
While serving in the Railways, in the year 1998, Ms. Fancy Babu suffered transverse myelopathy (inflammation of spinal cord) at D4 level, which eventually resulted in complete paralysis confining her to bed. In 2002, she proposed to retire voluntarily and the Indian Railways accepted it. In 2009, having come to know of the beneficial provisions of benefit of Section 47 of the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act, 1995, the employee approached the Central Administrative Tribunal, Ernakulam Branch seeking reinstatement and extension of benefits under the Act in OA/49/2009. The Tribunal, allowed the original application, setting aside the order or retirement and directed the employee’s reinstatement with effect from 15.02.2002. But Railways went against it before the High Court in  WP(C) No. 15871 of 2010 [click here to read the judgement dt 25 Aug 2014], wherein the said order was confirmed by the High Court by dismissing the appeal preferred by the Railways. 

Facts leading to instant case
 
However, in the year 2015, Ms. Fancy Babu had to again approach CAT  & file MA No. 180 of 2015 under Rule 24 of the CAT (Procedure) Rules 1987 complaining that the Tribunal’s order, as has been confirmed by this Court, has not been implemented by the Indian Railways.  Ms. Babu cited Kunal Singh v. Union of India (2003) 4 SCC 524 and Bhagwan Dass and another v. Punjab State Electricity Board (2008) 1 SCC 579 on protections available to employees under Section 47 of the Act.

The Tribunal, treating it as a special case, held that the employee need not report to office to receive her salary and it directed the employer to explore the possibility of ‘voluntarily’ retiring the employee with all service benefits. 

The Indian Railways again preferred an appeal  OP (CAT).No. 182 of 2016 titled Union of India and Ors Vs. Ms. Fancy Babu, before the Kerala High Court against this order of the Tribunal.  The contention put forth by the Indian Railways was that that since it is in trust of public money; it would be against the public interest to let a person draw salary without her discharging any function—without even attending the office. On the part of employee, it was urged that, where an employee has been totally incapacitated and has been rendered immobile, it is inequitable and unconscionable to compel the employee to attend office, much less discharge functions. 

Dismissing the challenge against the CAT order, the division bench comprising Justices PR Ramachandra Menon and Dama Seshadri Naidu, observed: “Given the modesty of women, the employer, still, expects a crippled woman employee to visit the work place, and, if necessary, discharge the functions to be assigned to her—all this with a urinary catheter permanently fixed and also with bowel incontinence: her modesty exposed and privacy invaded.” 

Strongly worded judgement authored by Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu discusses judicial recognition of human dignity in various countries. The bench also observed that employer’s insistence that she should physically mark her attendance daily in office violates her privacy. “The doctrine of dignity takes into its fold ‘privacy’, too, for it is a facet of a woman’s dignity,” the court held. “The employer seems to have understood that keeping an employee on the rolls, as if she had been in service, must mean that she should perform the ritual of attending office. We are afraid it is misplaced, if not perverse,” the bench said. 

 Dismissing the appeal and upholding the CAT order, the bench remarked: “Here is a conflict, as it seems, between the employee’s constitutional right—right to dignity and privacy—and the employer’s right—right to compel an employee to discharge the allotted functions. Need we say, it is the constitutional right that prevails? Nevertheless, we hasten to add, it may be a constitutional canon but needs the facts to justify it. Here, the facts, we think, justify this conclusion.”

Click here to read the judgement  dated 03 Oct 2016 in OP (CAT).No. 182 of 2016 titled Union of India and Ors Vs. Ms. Fancy Babu passed by the Kerala High Court.



5% Marks Concession to Reserved Categories in TET is Creating Equal Level-Playing Field - Supreme Court [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

Hon'ble Supreme Court has reiterated that the preferential treatment or concessions granted to SC/ST, backward classes, persons with disabilities and de-notified communities is within the concept of equality and is in furtherance of the  constitutional obligation of the State to the under-privileged and to create an equal level-playing field.

In the instant case the 5% marks concessions granted by the Tamil Nadu State to the reserved categories in State Teachers Eligibility Tests conducted under the NCTE guidelines was under challenge. The division bench comprising Justice Siva Kirti Singh and Justice R Banumati was considering a batch of appeals on conflicting judgments from Principal and Madurai Bench of Madras High Court concerning appointment of secondary grade teachers and B.T. assistants in Tamil Nadu as per the guidelines prescribed by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).

Hon'ble SC Bench observed that “The idea behind laying down NCTE guidelines for conducting TET was to bring about uniformity and certainty in the standards and quality of education being imparted to the students across the nation. However, at the same time the framers of the guidelines took note of the huge socioeconomic disparity existing in the nation and accordingly, by virtue of Clause No. 9 enabled the respective state governments/authorities to provide relaxation to the candidates belonging to socially backward classes.” 

Hon'ble Bench expressed that the Constitution   of   India   has   made   adequate   enabling   provisions empowering   the   State   to   promote   reservation/concessions.   Special provisions are made for advancement of the socially and economically backward classes.  These provisions will bring out the contents of equality of opportunity guaranteed under Articles 14, 15 (1), 16 (1) of the Constitution of India by creating equal level-playing field.  

Hon'ble Court made a reference to M. Nagaraj and Others vs. Union of India and Others  (2006) 8 SCC 212, wherein the Constitution Bench held as follows:-
“47. Equality of opportunity has two different and distinct concepts.  There is a conceptual distinction between a non-discrimination principle and affirmative   action   under   which   the   State   is   obliged   to   provide   a level-playing field to the oppressed classes.   Affirmative action in the above sense seeks to move beyond the concept of non-discrimination towards equalizing results with respect to various groups.   Both the conceptions constitute “equality of opportunity”.”
The Bench also made a reference to State of Madhya Pradesh and Anr. Vs. Kumari Nivedita Jain and Others (1981) 4 SCC 296 wherein it was eloquently stated that the grant of relaxation is for the upliftment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and other backward communities.  

The bench also indicated that in a similar case wherein Rajasthan High Court upheld the challenge to relaxation to reserved categories,  the Hon'ble SC had reversed the Rajasthan High Court judgement  in the matter titled  Vikas Sankhala and Ors. v. Vikas Kumar Agarwal and Ors. Etc. (2016) 10 SCALE 163.

The bench held that such a provision is in line with the principles enshrined in the Constitution and state government cannot be faulted for discharging its constitutional obligation of upliftment of socially and economically backward communities by providing 5% relaxation to candidates belonging to scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, backward classes, most backward classes, de-notified communities and persons with disability (PWD). 

The bench also rejected the contention that the government has changed the rules of selection. “It is not the case where a basic eligibility criterion has been altered in the midst of the selection process.” “By granting relaxation of 5% marks in TET for reserved categories only, the eligibility criterion is neither altered nor is any prejudice caused to the appellants.”

The Hon'ble bench finally held that Madras High Court principal bench rightly rejected the challenge to G.O.(Ms.) No.25 dated 06.02.2014 and G.O.(Ms.) No. 71 dated 30.05.2014, holding that as per the NCTE guidelines, the state government has the power to grant relaxation on marks obtained in TET to candidates belonging to reserved category and the same is affirmed.

To read the judgement click here: 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

US Supreme Court to hear ground breaking case involving what is "appropriate education" for students with Autism in public schools

Dear Colleagues,

The origins of this potentially lank mark case stretch back to 2010 when the parents of a child with autism in Douglas County of USA had to withdraw their child from "Summit View Elementary" -  a public school  after the child (now 17) began to exhibit severe behavioral issues, including banging his head, dropping to the floor, disrobing and running away from school. The parents having been convinced the school wasn’t doing enough to help their son with autism progress academically, pulled the child out of Summit View and enrolled him in Firefly Autism, a Denver school that specializes in working with autistic children.

The parents have argued in the petition they submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court late last year that the intent of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was to provide a meaningful education to disabled students, not simply a “just-above-trivial” benefit. They noted that federal judges from several circuits across the country have issued conflicting rulings over the years on what is the "appropriate standard" to be used to assess the proper level of educational benefit a disabled student should get. The petition of the parents argues that this case presents an ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the circuit split and provide lower courts with guidance in applying the IDEA.

It is pertinent to note that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t spoken on the issue since the 1982 Board of Education Versus Rowley ruling, when it affirmed that IDEA guaranteed disabled students access to the public school classroom but didn’t address the quality of that education.

Even in India, we have been facing this issue of what is 'appropriate education' for children with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While the government schools in India are woefully ill-equipped in absence of trained educators, lack of teaching learning material in the schools given the large number of students. The situation is equally grim in the private schools as well who charge a considerable amount in the name of tuition fee and other counts, however, have made the education of disabled children an affair to be managed by Shadow Teachers (paid by parents). In the name of inclusion, children do remain in the school but there is hardly an effort to include them in the classroom or the learning outcomes. Children with disabilities are also not included in play or extra-curricular activities. This is surely not inclusion. This is a clear violation of the spirit of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 and in particular Section 30 of the Act.

Entire world will be watching this case with great curiosity as to what Supreme Court of USA decides. But one thing is sure, Supreme Court had made up its mind to speak its mind on the issue and likely to grant Certiorari to the parents. This case is truly about equal opportunity for the special needs children that the law requires. And this is likely to help realize inclusive education as enshrined in the IDEA.

Brief about IDEA 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a four-part (A-D) piece of American legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. IDEA was previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) from 1975 to 1990. In 1990, the United States Congress reauthorized EHA and changed the title to IDEA (Public Law No. 94-142). Overall, the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.

IDEA is composed of four parts, the main two being part A and part B.[1] Part A covers the general provisions of the law, Part B covers assistance for education of all children with disabilities, Part C covers infants and toddlers with disabilities which includes children from birth to age three, and Part D is the national support programs administered at the federal level. Each part of the law has remained largely the same since the original enactment in 1975.

In practice, IDEA is composed of six main elements that illuminate its main points. These six elements are: Individualized Education Program (IEP), Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent and Teacher Participation, and Procedural Safeguards. To go along with those six main elements there are also a few other important components that tie into IDEA: Confidentiality of Information, Transition Services, and Discipline. Throughout the years of IDEA being reauthorized these components have become key concepts when learning about IDEA.

Here is the coverage in Denver on the issue

U.S. Supreme Court will hear Douglas County student with disabilities case
Origins of potentially landmark case stretch back to 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will hear a potentially groundbreaking case brought by a Douglas County couple who claim that their autistic son was not provided an adequate education in the public school system as required by federal law.

The high court’s ruling on the case, which likely wouldn’t come down until next year, could have substantial implications for students with disabilities across the country in terms of the standard school districts will be required to meet when providing instruction and services. At issue is whether schools must provide an education equal to other students.

The family, whose last name is not used in court documents, told The Denver Post on Thursday that they were “shell-shocked and giddy” about the decision by the Supreme Court to grant certiorari to their case, which has dragged on for half a dozen years.

“It’s about equal opportunity for special-needs kids that the law requires,” said Joe F., father of Endrew F., whose name anchors the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case file. “If we can change any families’ lives, that’s our goal.”

The district released a statement on the high court’s decision late Thursday.

“It would be inappropriate to discuss the specifics of the case while it is still being litigated, but the Court’s decision today is not a decision on the merits, and we look forward to addressing the issues before the Court,” district spokeswoman Paula Hans said.

The roots of the case go back to 2010, when the Highlands Ranch couple pulled Endrew, now 17, out of Summit View Elementary after he began to exhibit severe behavioral issues, including banging his head, dropping to the floor, disrobing and running away from school. Convinced the school wasn’t doing enough to help their son progress academically, the couple pulled him out of Summit View and enrolled him in Firefly Autism, a Denver school that specializes in working with autistic children.
“If he was able to show up to school and say ‘good morning,’ that was good enough for them,” Joe F. said of the Douglas County School District. “They weren’t moving his education forward.”

The family has asked that their last name not be used.

The parents, who said their son has made progress in his learning since attending Firefly, asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition they paid for Endrew’s private schooling. They claimed that the Douglas County School District did not do enough to provide their son with a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

But an administrative law judge, a federal judge and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed the district, claiming in separate rulings that the federal statute only requires that schools provide students with “some educational benefit,” a standard they determined Douglas County had met with Endrew.

The family argued in the petition they submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court late last year that the intent of the IDEA was to provide a meaningful education to disabled students, not simply a “just-above-trivial” benefit. They noted that federal judges from several circuits across the country have issued conflicting rulings over the years on what is the appropriate standard to be used to assess the proper level of educational benefit a disabled student should get.

“This case presents an ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the circuit split and provide lower courts with guidance in applying the IDEA,” their petition argued.

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t spoken on the issue since the 1982 Board of Education v. Rowley ruling, when it affirmed that IDEA guaranteed disabled students access to the public school classroom but didn’t address the quality of that education.

The family received a boost last month when the Office of the Solicitor General filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the case. It said that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had set the bar — a standard of “merely … more than de minimis” educational benefit — too low.

“No parent or educator in America would say that a child has received an ‘appropriate’ or a ‘specially suitable’ or ‘proper’ education ‘in the circumstances’ when all the child has received are benefits that are barely more than trivial,” the solicitor general’s office wrote.

But Kathleen Sullivan, chief counsel for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said it would be better for Congress to clarify its statutes than for the court to impose an order. A uniform standard handed down by the Supreme Court would prove “disruptive” to what is today an individually tailored analysis and decision between educators, parents and students, she said.

“The disruption is in shoving aside more than 30 years of case law that we have in helping us understand what the IDEA means for students,” Sullivan said. “I think we would see a wave of litigation to define and apply that new standard.”

The district, in a brief it filed earlier this month urging the Supreme Court not to take up the case, argued that in passing the IDEA, Congress guaranteed access to public education for students with disabilities but did not specify what the level of that education should be.

“Thus, for over 30 years, this Court has held that if a State provides a program ‘reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits,’ then it ‘has complied with the obligations imposed by Congress and the courts can require no more,’ ” the brief argued.

But Jack Robinson, an attorney for Endrew F.’s family, said one of the IDEA’s stated goals is readying a student with disabilities for the workforce or independent living, something that can’t be achieved with a minimal education offering.

“There has to be a more heightened and robust standard than a little more than nothing,” Robinson said. “This case has the potential of recognizing that children with disabilities have a right to a substantive education.”

Source : Denverpost 

Note: This post is also reproduced on " Subhash Vashishth's Blog"

Disabled Soldiers & Politics of their Disability Pension

Dear Colleagues,

Here is a wonderful article by  Maj Navdeep Singh, a veteran and a fellow lawyer at Punjab and Haryana High Court. In this connection, you may also refer to  my earlier post dt. 26 Feb 2014 "DESW works against Ex-Servicemen disabled during service are worst hit".

Questions of compensation

India has the distinction of exhibiting disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers

India is quite a paradox. There is excessive chest-thumping for our men and women in uniform on the one hand and pride in laying constant siege to the benefits and legal rights of those very personnel whom we superficially cheer while on parades on the other.

And bearing the brunt of this all are our disabled soldiers. The deleterious effect the stress and strain of military service has on a soldier’s health is a universally recognised phenomenon. In fact, most nations go out of the way to make the lives of their troops more comfortable — as seen in rising payouts for their loss of health. However, India has the distinction of exhibiting utter disdain towards the cause of disabled soldiers. At a very rudimentary level, for example, one has defence services accountants asking how ailments such as heart disease, neurosis, backache, seizures — common in civilians too — can be affected or aggravated by military service.

The service-disability connection

It is not difficult to discern that a highly unsettled and regimented life, away from family most of the year, and at times under the shadow of the gun, the inability to cope with domestic commitments, and a lack of community living, sexual fulfilment and physical proximity, curtailed freedoms and rights, can all lead to an aggravation of common medical conditions. The life of military personnel or even paramilitary troopers who are on duty almost 24 hours a day and who require permission to use even a washroom or visit a market after signing multiple registers, cannot be compared with civilians who live with their families and have fixed and reasonable working hours in a week.

Disability rules in India and other democracies are balanced and work on the presumption of a military service-disability connection. But the army of accountants and financial wizards often rejects such disability claims leading to numerous instances of judicial intervention. When disability benefits are awarded by courts and tribunals, there is more shock in store. The Ministry of Defence appeals against the claims of disabled, at times over amounts as little as a few hundred rupees. Between 2012-2013, 90 per cent of all appeals filed in the Supreme Court by the Ministry of Defence were against disabled soldiers. The efforts of the Defence Minister to control the litigation malaise are being met with strong resistance from the official-legal ecosystem which thrives on the miseries of disabled soldiers.

Paring pension rates
A recent example was the recommendation made in the Seventh Central Pay Commission to slash disability pension rates. The observation was that as there was an increase in the percentage of disabled officers in the defence services vis-à-vis the lower ranks, benefits needed to be slashed from the “percentage of pay system” to a “slab system” which would be more equitable for ranks other than officers. The recommendation was that from the current formula of “30% of pay for 100% disability”, the disability element should now be granted at the fixed rate of Rs. 27,000, Rs.17,000 and Rs.12,000 for Commissioned Officers, Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks respectively for 100 per cent disability, and proportionately reduced for lesser disability. Surprisingly, no such corresponding “equitable” change was recommended for civilian disability pensioners, including those from the Central Armed Police Forces, who continue to receive benefits on the basis of “percentage of pay”.

Statistically, there is a higher probability of officers incurring disability than jawans since the latter start retiring in their 30s after about 15-plus years of service. Officers retire in their 50s after a service period spanning 30 years or more. It shocks one that those who are maimed and infirm have to bear insults when instead there should be concern about the rise in stress and strain and a deteriorating health profile among defence personnel.

The recommendation was made suo motu based on data by the Defence Accounts Department to the commission and without being authenticated by the defence services. No opportunity was granted to discuss the issue. The accounting jugglery is even more jarring since the slab system would result in a better payout only to those rare cases where those in the lower ranks are medically boarded out at the start of their careers, while it results in a loss to all jawans who are released on completion of regular service terms. In the higher ranks, the difference is more glaring. A Lieutenant General who is 100 per cent disabled and drawing a disability element of Rs.52,560 as of December 31, 2015, would now get Rs.27,000 on January 1, 2016. His civilian counterpart, on a par earlier, would now get Rs.67,500. While the pay commission has handsomely increased all pensions, which includes civil disability, it has slashed those for military disability; in some instances by more than half. The fact that vested interests have twisted the issue on social media citing ‘government sources’ makes this even more unfortunate.

What is the use of all the pomp and show at military displays or basking in the glory of our military achievements if we cannot take care of our disabled soldiers? They may form a minuscule percentage, but they certainly deserve much better.

About Major Navdeep Singh - Major Singh is a veteran and an advocate at the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association, Chandigarh., and is Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels

Source: The Hindu

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bombay HC favours aspiring candidates with cerebral palsy for admission to MBBS; Orders re-constitution of Medical Board with 2 Neuro-specialists [Judgement Included]

Dear colleagues,

This petition by two candidates with cerebral palsy who are aspiring to become doctors/ surgeons revolves around three larger questions often faced by many candidates with disabilities aspiring to be doctors:
(a) Whether a person with cerebral palsy can be a doctor?
(b) Whether the 40-70% disability criteria set by MCI for admission to MBBS courses is constitutionally valid ?
(c) Whether  a team of ophthalmologist, a pathologist, an orthopaedic, a general physician and a surgeon can assess the disability of a person with cerebral palsy in absence of a neuro specialist?

The Medical Board set up by State Directorate of Medical Education and Research mechanically assessed the candidates above 70% disability looking at the etiology of their disability i.e. cerebral palsy. The Board did not have neuro-specialists. Hon'ble Bench ordered to re-examine the candidates citing that the Medical Board was not competent to even assess the candidates with cerebral palsy. The court expressed that the Medical Board should include two doctors who have a specialization in neuroscience and asked for re-constitution of the same to assess the disability and to keep two seats vacant for them.  However, it seems the judgement doesn't address the impugned criteria of 40-70% disability!  Another area that is worth our concern is the tendency of authorities to adjust candidates with disabilities in disability quota even when the candidates have scored higher marks in the common entrance test like general candidates. This must be checked at every stage.

It is pertinent to mention that the candidates did not have functional impediment of upper limbs, they had a restriction of the lower limbs while walking. However, since the disability is a result of cerebral palsy, the medical board often indicates all four limbs involved. Same is the case with the List of identified posts by Govt. of India wherein the assessment or identification doesn't highlight the functional abilities as it mechanically goes with categories as One Arm, One Leg, Both Legs. Merely on the basis of slight involvement of limbs the candidates are declared ineligible even where the affected limb hasn't lost its functional competence. (Eg. a person with a deformed feet but with no functional limitation in walking is declared as ineligible for a post not meant for both leg affected candidate.) These inconsistencies in the list of identified jobs and their mechanical implementation by departments is causing more harm than good.

Click here for the Combined Court Order dt 22 Aug 2016 in WP(C) 9299/2016 titled Rajnandinee P. Mane Versus State of Maharashtra and Ors.  WP(C) 9556/2016 titled Rutuja D. Raut Vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors. 
Here is the brief coverage by Times of India of this specific case.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Indian Currency not friendly to Blind, NAB files petition in Bombay High Court

Dear Colleagues,

Coins of various denominations and notes of Rs 100 and Rs 500 have no different identification marks which will help blind persons in differentiating among them claims a petition filed by the National Association for Blind (NAB), before the Bombay High Court. Advocate Uday Warunjikar, who has moved the petition, said: "Under provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, there are various provisions which have been made by the government for safeguarding the interest of the disabled. Several provisions are also there for ensuring a disable-friendly environment. However, in the present coins and notes it is difficult for persons who are blind or with low vision to differentiate between them."

The petition states that the problems of identification have been aggravated in the last few years. Earlier, blind or low vision person were easily able to identify coins and notes. There were unique marks on each coin; some coins were raised/embossed and tactile. Moreover, on a written request sent by RBI and Mint asking for feedback from NAB on the shape of coins and notes. A detailed suggestion was forwarded to the government in which it was said that there is no much difference between Rs 100 and Rs 500 notes. Coins of Rs 2, Rs 1 and Rs 50 paise are similar, there should be coins with proper borders, different designs, shapes, different textures for avoiding confusion, nothing is being done.

The plea says the suggestions were given last year and it was expected that appropriate decision would be taken. However, till now nothing is being done to address the issue. Earlier, the association would teach blind persons to identify currency notes. Now, it has become difficult to educate them. The petition prays for directions to the authorities to place on record steps it has taken to protect the rights of blind persons to have access to information about the currency notes and coins. Direct the respondents to make changes in the currency notes and coins to help blind persons easily identify them.

Source: DNA

Travelodge sued for discriminating with a deaf customer with guide dog in USA

Dear Colleagues,

A deaf woman who uses a service dog is suing the Travelodge of La Mesa, alleging discrimination for how she was treated when she tried unsuccessfully to check into the hotel earlier this year.

The Travelodge though did not initially bar her from staying overnight with her guide dog, it demanded that she sign a damage policy form for pets that she and her lawyers say is discriminatory, according to a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court.

When she protested during the check-in process, the desk clerk informed her that she and herguide dog were no longer welcome to stay at the hotel, the suit says. She asked for a refund but was denied one at the time because the hotel stay was booked on Expedia, the desk clerk told her.

The plaintiff, Naomi Sheneman, of Rochester, New York, is alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act.

She is seeking a court order requiring Travelodge to comply with policies prohibiting discrimination against the deaf and to train its staff on a regular basis about the rights of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing under state and federal laws. The suit also seeks compensatory damages.

“There are a lot of hotels out there that don’t follow the law and require additional burdens for people with service animals,” said attorney Andrew Rozynski of Eisenberg & Baum Law Center For The Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which is representing Sheneman. “This suit is to show that you can’t have these additional burdens for people with disabilities because that’s the law. To require her to sign this form and say she can’t stay there and embarrass her is humiliating.”

Travelodge said it was reviewing the complaint with its attorneys. “However, we want to make it clear that Ms. Sheneman, who was a returning guest and totally familiar with the policies and rules of the hotel, was not presented any additional requirements because of her service animal,” the hotel said in a statement. “She was asked for the same deposit as any customer and presented the same information that would be given to any guest with a non-service animal.”

The La Mesa hotel said it did not refuse service to Sheneman, and that it “has never discriminated against persons with service animals. We welcome service animals as advertised on our website, and guests with service animals are staying on a regular basis at the Travelodge of La Mesa.”

While the Travelodge of La Mesa does not permit pets, it notes on its website that “ADA defined service animals are welcome at this hotel.” When Sheneman checked in, she was told that a damage deposit for the room was required, which she provided.

But when she was given a form setting forth additional charges to be applied specifically to damage caused by a guest’s animal, she said she was uncomfortable signing it because it “appeared to impose additional terms or obligations on her because of her service animal,” states the suit.

Sheneman was forced to stay at another hotel and ultimately received a full refund from Travelodge of the $185.53 she had paid.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Are meritorious candidates with disabilities pushed into disability quota against the spirit of Section 33?

Dear Colleagues,

The govt. departments, who should be complying with the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act 1995 have been flouting these very provisions under different garbs. This is not a new phenomenon. I remember in April 2005, I had challenged on behalf of All India Confederation of the Blind an advertisement of Govt. of NCT of Delhi and UPSC for filling up 90 posts of Principals without giving 3% reservation for persons with disabilities. In the counter filed by the Delhi Govt. it was suggested that they will adjust all persons with disabilities against reserved quota even if they cleared on their own merit. The Hon'ble Court presided by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat then had given a categorical judgement saying this could not be allowed and issued rule. The Delhi Govt. even went in appeal through LPA No.2042, 2043 and 2044/2005, however, on 21 Dec 2005 vide a common judgement, the double bench headed by the Hon'ble Chief Justice and Justice Madam B Lokur dismissed the said appeals upholding that Article 46 of the Constitution provides that the State shall promote the interests of weaker sections and weaker section would include not just SCs and STs but also persons with disabilities. The court had dismissed the LPAs with directions that a candidate with disabilities who has qualified in the selection and whose merit is so high that if he were a general category candidate he would still have been selected, then his appointment will not be made against the quota of persons with disabilities. Such a candidate would be treated as if in the general category and the reserved seats of the disabled category will be calculated excluding him or be filled up accordingly.

In fact, this fact has been repeatedly held by the Hon'ble Supreme Court that concessions to help / enable a candidate appear in examinations cannot be termed as “reservation benefits“ if she/he qualifies on merit. [PGI Medical Education and Research V. K.L. Narasimham, (1997) 6 SCC 283]

The trend of subverting the laws against the marginalized section continues to be pushed by many employing departments rendering the minimum reservations as maximum reservations. As simple as age relaxations, fee relaxations, lower threshold of qualifying marks and additionally in case of disabled candidates - using a scribe or availing compensatory time during examination is being used as the basis to classify them as "reserved candidates". Using a scribe or compensatory time or fee/ age /qualifying marks relaxation can at best be considered as enabling provisions. These provisions can not be used to push them in to the "reservation quota" thereby defeating the original intent of such beneficial legislation.

The National Commission for SCs is examining this issue and has issued notice to UPSC, DoPT etc. on receipt of complaints from the stakeholders. The Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities on the other hand, has not taken any suo moto notice of several such cases happening right under their nose. This is an alarming situation where the statutory bodies are lagging behind in restoring justice to the most marginalized and have failed to protect their rights and equal participation in the spirit of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Supreme Court says Section 33 entitles reservation for employees with disabilities in promotion in Group A,B,C & D alike [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

Please refer to my earlier posts dated 02 March 15 and  10 Oct 14, on the subject. 

In a historic judgment in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 521/2008 titled Rajeev Kumar Gupta and Others Versus Union of India and Others, the Hon'ble Supreme Court on 30 Jun 2016 has set aside / quashed the two office memorandums No.36035/16/91-Estt. (SCT) dated 18.02.1997 and No.36035/3/2004-Estt. (RES) dated 29.12.2005 issued by the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, terming them as illegal and inconsistent with the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

In the instant case the petitioners, Rajeev Kumar Gupta and seven other persons with disabilities serving as engineers in Prasar Bharti made the grievance that the higher level posts in the engineering cadre were filled mostly by promotion. Although these posts were suitable for persons with disabilities, the Government was denying them 3% reservation in these posts, which amounted to defeating the intent and purpose of reservation provided for in the Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act, 1995. At the heart of the problem were the DoPT instructions dated 18.2.97 and 29.12.2005, which prohibited reservation in promotion for disabled persons in Group A and B posts. 

Petitioners had argued that a large number of Groups A and B were filled only through promotion and because of the impugned DoPT memorandums, the benefit of reservation under Section 33 of the 1995 Act was denied with respect to those posts. Petitioners therefore lost out on a significant amount of opportunities at the upper end of the organizational hierarchy.

The government opposed concession to the disabled, contending that they have no right to demand reservation in promotion to identified Group A and Group B posts. It also cited the nine-judge bench ruling by the apex court in the Indra Sawhney (Mandal reservation) case, to maintain reservation should be confined to recruitment at the initial level, and not at the stage of promotions.

It may be pertinent to mention that in the Indra Sawhney case while dealing with caste based reservation issue, the Bench had held "Reservation in promotion is constitutionally impermissible as, once the advantaged and disadvantaged are made equal and are brought in one class or group then any further benefit extended for promotion on the inequality existing prior to be brought in the group would be treating equals unequally. It would not be eradicating the effects of past discrimination but perpetuating it."

But the bench dismissed the government’s arguments, noting that once the posts for the disabled have been identified under Section 32 of the Act, the purpose behind such identification cannot be frustrated by prescribing a mode of recruitment which results in denial of statutory reservation.

“It would be a device to defraud persons with disabilities of the statutory benefit. Once a post is identified, it means that a person with disability is fully capable of discharging the functions associated with the identified post. Once found to be so capable, reservation under Section 33 to an extent of not less than 3 per cent must follow. Once the post is identified, it must be reserved for PWD irrespective of the mode of recruitment adopted by the State for filling up of the said post,” it held.

The bench further said that Indra Sawhney’s case shall not impose a bar on reservation for the disabled, since the principle laid down in this case is applicable only when the State seeks to give preferential treatment in the matter of employment to the backward class.

“The basis for providing reservation for persons with disabilities is physical disability and not any of the criteria forbidden under Article 16(1) such as caste, religion etc. The objective behind the 1995 Act is to integrate those living with disabilities into the society and to ensure their economic progress… persons with disabilities are not and cannot be equated with backward classes contemplated under Article 16(4),” it said. Article 16 of the Constitution empowers the state to prescribe preferential treatment to certain classes in matters of public employment.

The judgement is historic and a major milestone in the fight for restoring the rights of persons with disabilities in India. 

The argument in this case were concluded on 17.03.2016  and the bench had reserved the judgement.

The case, represents success in a hard fought battle waged by persons with disabilities for equal opportunity and representation in the higher echelons of Government. Hitherto, disabled persons were likely to stagnate at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy, as their promotion to higher level posts was made difficult because of their physical disadvantage. 


Brief Background of related matters

It may be pertinent to mention that the Hon'ble Supreme Court  had on 08 Oct 2013 in the case titled Union of India vs. National Federation of the Blind delivered a land mark judgment directing the Govt, of India and State Governments to compute 3% reservation for persons with disabilities in all groups of posts against the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength. The Hon'ble Court also laid down that the computation had to be done in an identical manner in respect of all groups of posts. Subsequently, the Hon'ble Supreme Court vide its judgement dated 10 Dec 2013 in a case titled as MCD Vs. Manoj Kumar Gupta upheld a judgment of Hon'ble Delhi High court which declared that Section 33 of the Disabilities Act, provided for reservation in promotion for persons with disabilities in Groups A and B also.

But instead of implementing the judgement, the Govt. of India had been contesting the issue through various frivolous litigation which were nipped in the bud each time by the Hon'ble Court. 

Judgement Copy

(Hyperlinked text opens the judgement in a new windowJudgement dated 30 June 2016 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 521/2008 titled Rajeev Kumar Gupta and Others Versus Union of India and Others



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Kerala HC: Tax Exemption on Vehicle for disabled is financial privilege different from a Right [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,
A double bench of the Kerala High Court has ruled that a cap on tax exemption on purchase value of vehicles by persons with disabilities can not be termed as discriminatory. The division bench comprising of Justice Antony Dominic and Justice Dama Seshadri Naidu opined  that the exemption made by the Government in the instant case, was in the nature of concession to persons with disabilities. And this exemption being a part of financial incentive, the Government was well within its powers to impose suitable conditions.

Brief Brackground  of the case

The Government, had by a notification, G.O. (MS) No. 16/98/Tran., dated 31.03.1998, granted a tax exemption for certain motor vehicles, including the luxury cars, being purchased by differently abled persons. However by a subsequent amendment, the Government had imposed a limit to the cap of Rs.5,00,000/- ,on the value of such vehicles entitled to such tax exemption.

Appellant, a person with 100% disability and a wheel chair user purchased a car of a value exceeding Rs. 5,00,000/. He argued that his son was also disabled being mentally retarded, a bigger car of a value more than 5,00,000/- cap was required to manage the daily activities of the family. He contended that limiting the cap on value of vehicles entitled to tax exemption for use by disabled, violated Article 14 of the Constitution of India. 

His writ petition in this regard, before the single bench was dismissed. Aggrieved by the same, he approached the division bench in an appeal.  Dismissing the writ appeal, the division bench observed:- “Be it a classification of discrimination in terms of Article 14 of the Constitution, it applies vis-a-vis the right that has been constitutionally consecrated. In that context, legion are the precedents that the classification or discrimination shall pass the judicial muster as regards the reasonableness or non-arbitrariness.” 

Judgement

The bench opined, “In the present instance, it is only a concession the Government has conferred on physically challenged persons. It being a financial incentive, the Government is well within its powers to impose suitable conditions. In other words, a privilege being entirely different from a right, a Fundamental Right at that, we are of the opinion that the contention of the learned counsel as regards discrimination or unreasonableness does not apply.”