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.” 



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Deaf witness is a competent & credible witness- High Court [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

A single bench of Hon'be Delhi High Court presided by Justice Mukta Gupta while disposing off an appeal has held that when a deaf witness is under cross-examination the Court is required to take due care of the fact that vocabulary of such a person is limited as he or she speaks through sign language and it may not be possible for that witness to answer, or in detail explain every answer by sign language. This disability of a limited vocabulary of sign language does not  affect either the competence or the credibility of such witness.

In the instant appeal filed by the Accused who was convicted for the offence defined under Section 9(k), punishable under Section 10 of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2002, for sexually assaulting a 12 yr old deaf and dumb girl, twin arguments were raised by the counsel for appellant i.e.  firstly since the prosecutrix could not be cross-examined her testimony cannot be read in evidence  and secondly even if the offence is proved against the appellant, the same would fall under Section 7 punishable under Section 8 of POCSO Act and not under Section 9(k) punishable under Section 10 of the POCSO Act.

Section 119 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides: “119. Dumb witnesses.- A witness who is unable to speak may give his evidence in any other manner in which he can make it intelligible, as by writing or by signs, but such writing must be written and the signs made in open Court. Evidence so given shall be deemed to be oral evidence.”

While dealing with the mode of recording, non-administration of oath to a deaf and dumb witness and involving an interpreter for understanding the evidence of such a witness, the Supreme Court in the decision reported as (2012) 5 SCC 789 State of Rajasthan Vs. Darshan Singh @ Darshan Lal held: “26. The object of enacting the provisions of Section 119 of the Evidence Act reveals that deaf and dumb persons were earlier contemplated in law as idiots. However, such a view has subsequently been changed for the reason that modern science revealed that persons affected with such calamities are generally found more intelligent, and to be susceptible to far higher culture than one was once supposed. When a deaf and dumb person is examined in the court, the court has to exercise due caution and take care to ascertain before he is examined that he possesses the requisite amount of intelligence and that he understands the nature of an oath. On being satisfied on this, the witness may be administered oath by appropriate means and that also with the assistance of an interpreter. However, in case a person can read and write, it is most desirable to adopt that method being more satisfactory than any sign language. The law requires that there must be a record of signs and not the interpretation of signs.

On Questioning the Testimony as no cross examination held

In reply to the first argument of questioning the testimony, Justice Mukta Gupta held as follows;

“The purpose of cross-examination is to ascertain the truth in relation to the acquisition levelled against an accused person and a discretion is vested in the Court to control the cross-examination. A party cross-examining a deaf and dumb witness like any other witness is required to act within the bounds of law and cannot be permitted to cross-examine the witness all and sundry on irrelevant questions. Section 138 of the Indian Evidence Act itself provides that the examination and cross-examination of a witness must relate to relevant facts but the cross-examination need not be confined to the facts to which the witness testified in his examination-in-chief. The purpose is that in cross-examination besides relevant facts, facts which impeach the credibility of the witness and shake his creditworthiness can also be asked. However still the first portion of Section 138 of the Evidence Act qualifies this right confining the cross-examination to relevant facts though it may not have been so deposed in the examination-in-chief. It is the duty of a Judge to control the cross-examination to prevent any abuse and to protect a witness from being unfairly dealt with. Sections 149 to 152 of the Evidence Act prohibit asking questions without reasonable grounds, which are indecent and scandalous in nature, or which are intended to insult or annoy the witness”.

“When a deaf and dumb witness is under cross-examination, the Court is required to take due care of the fact that vocabulary of such a person is limited as he or she speaks through sign language and it may not be possible for that witness to answer, or in detail explain every answer by sign language. This disability of a limited vocabulary of sign language does not affect either the competence or the credibility of such witness. The Court is required to exercise control over the cross-examination keeping in view the ability of the witness to answer the questions.

From the examination of the witness which was in question-answer form and the response to the cross-examination wherein the witness drew and explained the distance where the incident took place, it can safely be held that there was sufficient compliance of the right to cross-examination provided to an accused and the testimony of this witness is not required to be effaced”

On punishment under section 8 Sexual Assault or Section 9 Aggravated Sexual Assault 

The Court then examined the question whether appellant can be convicted for offence defined under Section 7 and punishable under Section 8 of the POCSO Act or defined under Section 9(k) and punishable under Section 10 of POCSO Act. The appellant was charged for offence defined under Section 7 and punishable under Section 8 of POCSO Act i.e. “sexual assault”.

Section 7 POCSO Act defines the term sexual assault as physical contact without penetration. The punishment for the same is provided in Section 8 wherein the minimum sentence is 3 years which may extend to 5 years with fine.

Section 9 of POCSO Act defines “aggravated sexual assault” which is punishable under Section 10 POCSO Act. Section 9 POCSO Act defines different types of sexual assault which would be termed as aggravated sexual assault. Sub-clause (k) of Section 9 POCSO Act provides that whoever, taking advantage of a child’s mental or physical disability, commits sexual assault on the child would be punished for aggravated sexual assault as per Section 10 of POCSO Act wherein the minimum punishment is of 5 years imprisonment which may extend to 7 years and fine.”

Though charged with a major offence an accused can be convicted for a minor offence, the vice-versa is impermissible.

Court altered the Punishment

Accepting the contention of the Accused, the bench held that in the facts of the case Court is not required to go into whether aggravated sexual assault is made out or not from the evidence on record, for the reason there was no charge for aggravated sexual assault framed against the appellant. “ It is trite law that though charged with a major offence an accused can be convicted for a minor offence, however the vice-versa is impermissible which has been done by the learned Trial Court.”

Consequently, the Court altered the conviction of Accused to one for offence defined under Section 7 and punishable under Section 8 of POCSO Act.

The earlier sentence dt. 17 Dec 2013  of "Rigorous imprisonment for a period of six years and fine of Rs. 5,000/- in default whereof to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of three months" has not been modified as "Rigorous imprisonment for a period of 5 years and to pay a fine of Rs. 10,000/- in default whereof to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of one month".

Click here for the Judgement dated 03 Jun 2016, bearing No. CRL.A. 751/2014 titled Chander Singh Vs. State

Language used by Judiciary referring to persons with disability

An important takeaway from this judgement is also the issue of improper and disability unfriendly language used by the Hon'ble Judges despite their best intentions. The terminology "deaf and dumb", "suffering from disability" etc has been repeatedly used by the prosecution, courts below and the high court in the pleadings, orders and judgement. And this is not one odd case. Its high time that the judicial officers  and prosecution officers too are trained in the use of correct language / terminology while referring to persons with disabilities. While the words, "suffering from" and "handicapped" are one extreme, the term "Divyang" suggested by Hon'ble Prime Minister of India is on the other extreme of the disability etiquette. People with disabilities are persons first and therefore a simple reference to them as "a person with disability" or "a person with hearing impairment", speech impairment, etc... in line with the UNCRPD accepted worldwide is appropriate and proper. The Hon'ble High Court must consider addressing this as a priority.  





SC slaps Rs.10 lakhs fine on SpiceJet for discriminating with a flier with disability [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,


In a remarkable judgement in a clear case of disability discrimination, a bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and R K Agrawal of Hon'ble Supreme Court has directed the budget airline Spicejet to pay a sum of Rs 10 Lakh (One Million Indian Rupees) as damages to a flyer living with cerebral palsy, who was forcibly offloaded in 2012, saying the manner in which she was de-boarded depicts "total lack of sensitivity".

The apex court noted that the flier with disability Ms. Jeeja Ghosh was not given "appropriate, fair and caring treatment" which she required with "due sensitivity" and the decision to de-board her was "uncalled for".

"On our finding that SpiceJet acted in a callous manner, and in the process violated Rules, 1937 and Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), 2008 guidelines resulting in mental and physical suffering experienced by Ghosh and also unreasonable discrimination against her, we award a sum of Rs 10,00,000 as damages to be payable to her," observed the Bench.

Ms. Ghosh was offloaded from a SpiceJet flight on February 19, 2012 from Kolkata when she was going to attend a conference in Goa hosted by NGO ADAPT (Able Disable All People Together), the second petitioner in the case.

The bench said the decision to offload Ghosh was taken by the airlines without any medical advise or consideration and her condition was not such which required any assistive devices or aids.

"Even if we assume that there was some blood or froth that was noticed to be oozing out from the sides of her mouth when she was seated in the aircraft (though vehemently denied by petitioner), nobody even cared to interact with her and asked her the reason for the same. No doctor was summoned to examine her condition. Abruptly and without any justification, a decision was taken to de-board her without ascertaining as to whether her condition was such which prevented her from flying. This clearly amounts to violation of Rule 133-A of Rules, 1937 and the CAR, 2008 guidelines," the bench said.

Click here for the Judgement WP(C) No. 98/2012 Titled Jeeja Ghosh and Anr Versus Union of India and Others 




Thursday, June 2, 2016

HC Order fail to bring relief to disabled MBBS aspirant this year despite clearing NEET [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

In the instant case, the Hon'ble Delhi High Court, in a matter of discrimination on the grounds of disability, the petitioner not only failed to get any practical relief while she missed her crucial year of MBBS even after clearing NEET Examination but also the stipulation that only persons up to 70% disability can be considered for MBBS course remained unchallenged. 

Thus in fact, this case can not be used by any other candidate with a disability  to seek admission in MBBS if he has more than 70% disability. The petitioner has to clear the NEET exam all over again next year thereby wasting her crucial year of life which can never be replenished to her. Is it true justice? Were respondent burdened with any cost for this lapse? How can the petitioner with 80% disability be considered next year again under the same rules that debar a candidate above 70%? What is the guarantee that her percentage of disability will not be used by the respondent to once again to deny her the seat even if she has the perseverance to clear the NEET the next year?

Brief of the case. 

The petitioner, Ms. Sanjana Sinha, when she was seventeen, had undergone amputation of her left leg, and got an artificial leg/prosthetic limb fitted, her disability adjudged as 80%. After qualifying NEET examination, she applied to Faculty of Medical Sciences for admission to MBBS course against the seats reserved for persons with disabilities. 

Although initially she found her name in the merit list and rank list, later she was declared not eligible for admission to MBBS due to her disability, which is 80%. The petitioner challenged this through the Writ petition, by contending that with the external aid/prosthetic limb her disability is less than 70%, within the prescribed range. The petitioner did not challenge the rule limiting the eligibility to 70%!

Division Bench comprising of Justices V. Kameswar Rao and Badar Durrez Ahmed observed “A welfare legislation…… needs to be given a purposive interpretation, inasmuch as to give benefit to a person with disability so that he/she don’t feel less privileged than a normal person. Moreover, we find that the petitioner has a brilliant academic carrier and has also qualified the NEET examination but for the disability, she would have got the admission in the course.” 

The Court also observed that having disability of 80% is a more appropriate case to be given benefit of the Act, since with the external aid/prosthetic limb, the disability would come within the range as permissible under the Regulation i.e. between 40/50-70. 

The Court allowed the Writ petition in following terms: “We may only state here that the petitioner was a successful candidate for the academic year starting 2013-2014. At this point of time, no direction can be issued to give admission to the petitioner on the basis of the said examination. The only direction that can be given is, in view of our discussion, the respondent shall not deny admission to the petitioner if she is successful in a future NEET examination on the ground that she has a disability of 80%.”

Click here for a copy of judgement: