Monday, September 30, 2019

Court of SCPD expresses displeasure on indifference and arrogant behaviour shown by bureaucrats in implementing RPwD Act 2016 [Judgement Included]

Dear colleagues,

The present case is a classic example of how the siloed approach on the part of the responsible officers at the helm makes it extremely difficult for a statutory authority like the Court of State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (SCPD) to perform their statutory functions.  The Hon'ble Court raises concern in its order in the present case on arrogantly irresponsive, indifference and ineffective approach  which as per the court is indeed a matter of grave concern and can have serious consequences for the persons with disabilities as an extremely proactive approach is needed to facilitate implementation of the socially beneficial Act. 

In the instant case, titled as Case No. 324/1101/2018/06/6061-6064  Dated: 24.09.2019 Suo Motu Vs. Commissioner (T&T), Delhi initiated on the complaint of a decorated Air Force veteran named Group Captain Prabal Malakar (Retd.), who is a wheelchair user and happens to be the Honorary Secretary, Multiple Sclerosis Society of India-Delhi Chapter about the problems of accessibility he faces while visiting hotels and cinema halls in the city. While most respondents took immediate action on the advise of the Hon'ble Court, the respondent  The Commissioner (Trade and Taxes), Govt. of NCT of Delhi who deals with the hotels in the city, did not respond even to several record of proceedings. 

Though the Hon'ble Court of SCPD could have easily enforced the attendance of the respondent under Section 82 of the Act or could have taken punitive provision under section 93 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, it chose to express its displeasure in its order in the following terms: 

"This reminds me of Dr. Naresh Chandra Saxena, former IAS Officer’s recent Book, “What Ails the IAS and Why It Fails to Deliver” in which he describes how the new reforms that are initiated fail to make any impact because most officers resist change and or are indifferent to the poor and the marginalised ones.  In the context of this case and a few others that I have dealt with as the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities during the last two and a half years, much of the deprivation of the rights and entitlements of persons with disabilities happens due to inadequate awareness, sensitivity, indifference to their plight and shying away from their responsibility at almost all the levels.  Its preponderance and pervasiveness at higher echelons has most detrimental effect.   

It further goes on to record,  "I am recording my unpleasant experience and the observations in this order with much reluctance and anguish and I am not relishing having to do so. In fact, I am doing so with a heavy heart and under a painful necessity respecting the call of my bounden duty. I feel that I will be failing in my duty if I let go of the lackadaisical approach, apathy and irresponsiveness for as long a period as five months by Commissioner of Excise, Entertainment and Luxury Tax in November 2018 and eight months by the Commissioner of Trade and Taxes in July 2019 only to say that they cannot and would not do anything in the matter coupled with the arrogance on the part of the public authority especially at the helm of affairs. This manifests abdication of obligation and shying away from the responsibility is a matter of serious concern. No effort should be spared to ensure that the credibility quotient of public/govt. authorities is kept at an all-time high if the RPwD Act is to be implemented in letter and spirit."

The Hon'ble Court of SCPD has passed its order as below:
(i) The respondent Department should send out at least a communication to all the Hotels and Restaurants operating in NCT of Delhi and to the President of the Federation of the Hotels and Restaurants Associations of India to ensure accessibility to their premises (built environment) by 15th June, 2022 and provide accessible public facilities and services to persons with disabilities with immediate effect as the date for the same is already over on 15th June, 2019 as mandated in the RPwD Act, 2016 under intimation to the State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.  I will of course continue taking up with them as well as with the civic authorities and make appropriate recommendations.
(ii)  I reiterate my recommendation to the worthy Chief Secretary, Govt. of NCT of Delhi that a workshop should be organised urgently for officers at all levels in the NCT of Delhi/Corporations etc. and at regular intervals thereafter to make them aware of  the provisions of the RPwD Act and their obligations under it and review the status of implementation of the provisions of the Act.  Need for such workshops has been brought to my notice by various stakeholders, more particularly by the primary stakeholders based on their bitter experiences and the feedback of the participants of the 9 workshops that this court has organised on the provisions of the RPwD Act and reservation for persons with disabilities in collaboration with UTCS since July 2017.
The respondent is duty bound under Section 81 of the RPwD Act 2016 to inform the court of the action taken on the recommendations made by the court within three months.

Read the Court Judgement in the above Case No. 324/1101/2018/06/6061-6064 Dated: 24.09.2019 here (in Word file)  and here (in PDF file)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Supreme Court says people above 50% of hearing and visual disability can not perform as judge! [Judgement included]

Dear Colleauges,


However, a Supreme Court bench of Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice KM Joseph on 22 Jan 2019 in the case titled V. Surendra Mohan vs. State of Tamil Nadu, shattered all my progressive writings and efforts to see more blind judges in India. The bench upheld the Tamil Nadu State’s policy of restricting the eligibility of blind and deaf candidates for the reserved posts of 'civil judge' to those with 40-50% of their respective disabilities. The SC Bench held,   "A judicial officer in a state has to possess reasonable limit of the faculties of hearing, sight and speech in order to hear cases and write judgments and, therefore, stipulating a limit of 50% disability in hearing impairment or visual impairment as a condition to be eligible for the post is a legitimate restriction i.e. fair, logical and reasonable  and that it does not contravene any of the provisions of the Disabilities Act 1995 or any other statutory provision."

I have seen judges's inherent biases and pre-conceived notions about disabling conditions often reflected in their judgements referring to persons with disabilities as unfortunate, crippled, wheelchair bound. This shows their lack of knowledge on disabling conditions and disability rights, however, this judgement has left me totally shaken. A common man's ignorance is pardonable, but for MyLords, whose pen has the ability to impact fate of millions of Indians with disabilities, it can be devastating for the hopes of many of them. The judges need to be well read and aware about the evolving capabilities of persons with disabilities with the advent of technology and science and the concept of reasonable accommodation that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provide. It is easier to label some one as 'incompetent' than set your own house in order. That is what the judiciary has done through this judgement despite the post of a judge identified as suitable to be held by a blind person by the Expert Committee constituted  by govt. of India, a bench renders them unsuitable!. Technically the bench should have refrained from stepping in to the shoes of the Expert Committee.

In the instant case, a person with seventy (70) percent blindness was denied appointment as a judge because he was more than fifty (50) percent threshold, the specified outer limit set by the Tamil Nadu State. Surprisingly, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion in the case that persons with more than the specified range of blindness are not eligible because they cannot perform functions of a judge!

In the background that several blind lawyers and judges are functioning well and the post is also identified as suitable for persons with disabilities by an Expert Committee under the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 and that the Act makes no restrictions of degree of  percentage of disabilities for providing job reservations and other benefits etc which are equally available to all persons above 40% disabilities, this judgement looks absurd.  Instead of holding that differentiation based on extent of blindness is invalid and working towards facilitating accessibility of ICT, processes and reasonable accommodations for judges with blindness, the Court decided to justify the decision of the Government and the Madras High Court, which took a stand that completely blind persons cannot perform the so called strenuous tasks of reading, writing, communicating, examining witnesses, following procedures, advising advocates, etc.

Background of the case

In 2012, the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission received a requisition from the State Government for filling up the vacancy posts of Civil Judge. The Commission wrote a letter to both the State Government as well as the High Court proposing to notify the percentage of disability as 40%-50% for partially blind and partially deaf for selection. The High Court communicated its approval to the aforesaid proposal which was also consented to, by the State of Tamil Nadu. The TNPC subsequently went on to publish the notification.

V. Surendra Mohan applied for the role of civil judge, however, his application was rejected on the ground that he was 70% blind (instead of below 50%). He challenged this decision in the Madras High Court upon which he was permitted to sit for the interview. Following his interview, Mohan’s application was again rejected. As a result, V. Surendra Mohan filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court. In 2015, the High Court held that the TNPC’s decision was lawful as it was in line with the State’s policy.

In 2019, Mohan appealed to the Supreme Court, challenging the rejection of his application as well as the policy on the basis of which his application was rejected, alleging it as arbitrary and unjustified.

The Bench comprising Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice KM Joseph rejected this submission. It remarked that “a judicial officer in a State has to possess reasonable limit of the faculties of hearing, sight and speech in order to hear cases and write judgments and, therefore, stipulating a limit of 50% disability in hearing impairment or visual impairment as a condition to be eligible for the post is a legitimate restriction”.

The Supreme Court’s view that a totally blind person cannot function as a judge is trashed by live examples of  several successful blind judges in India and beyond. Accessible work place, computers with screen reading softwares, pleadings and documents in accessible format and reasonable accommodations is what is needed for their inclusion and this makes so many lawyers and judges do wonderfully well in their workplace.

Surprisingly, neither the State government or the High Court nor the Supreme Court have given any reasons as to justification of  50% disability cut-off when Persons with Disabilities Act makes so such distinction. No empirical evidence or research has been put forward to support that beyond the 50% threshold, a person would not be able to effectively perform his duties as a judge.  Supreme Court blindly relies on the government wisdom on this 50% cut-off, without questioning its scientific basis. It is also unclear as to how an advertisement by TNPSC pursuant to a “letter” from the government attained the status of an overriding legal norm. This matter wasn't referred to by the State to the Experts Committee. Decision was taken by babus based on their own whims and fancies and since it affected judiciary, the court also felt safe as they had not to change any infrastructure to accommodate a blind judge in their system. It is almost another level of apartheid visible in the present order. 

The present judgement also literally backtracks its own judgement dated 22 January 2019 wherein the Hon'ble Supreme Court had set deadlines to make public places accessible to persons with visual impairment. It had expressed that “it becomes imperative to provide such facilities so that these persons also are ensured level playing field and not only they are able to enjoy life meaningfully, they contribute to the progress of the nation as well.”  Instead of providing level playing field, this judgement deprives blind candidates from their established legal right  arbitrarily. This order is a black spot on the image of Indian Supreme Court which has otherwise been very proactive for the rights of marginalised communities and has always batted for their inclusion in constitutional spirit. Therefore, this needs to be remedied soon in coming days.

Read the judgement in PDF below in V. Surendra Mohan vs. State of Tamil Nadu, Civil Appeal No. of 83 of 2019:



Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Insurance Company denies health insurance on the basis of disability - Court of Chief Commissioner approached

Dear Colleagues,


A Bengaluru based banker with visual disability has preferred a complaint in the Court of Chief commissioner for Persons with Disabilities against Religare for denying him health insurance policy on the grounds of his blindness. The 63 year-old banker Mr. TR Raghu Kumar has optic nerve atrophy (ONA), a condition of permanent vision loss caused due to damaged optic nerve, in March 1991. 

“I suddenly lost my eyesight; I woke up one morning to know that my vision has been affected. This can happen to anybody,” he said. He bought a health insurance policy from Religare for Rs 5 lakh and paid one-year premium of Rs 16,597 on October 26, 2018. “I had declared my condition in the insurance proposal and submitted a copy of the medical certificate,” he added.

A month later, Raghu received a call from the company stating that his insurance was rejected as he was totally blind and the premium was refunded. Alleging discrimination, Kumar wrote to the commissioner for persons with disabilities on November 29.

Responding to an email query, Religare said Kumar’s insurance proposal was declined due to ONA. “ONA can be caused by multiple reasons and not limited to trauma (including stroke), tumour, decrease in oxygen or blood supply, infections, disorders or hereditary reasons. There was no ascertainment with regard to the cause in his proposal. We cover persons with any kind of disability (physical/visual/hearing), provided there’s no co-existing health condition that’s in contravention with our medical underwriting guidelines,” Religare said.

However, Kumar said the company never asked him anything pertaining to the cause of ONA. “I’ve submitted the disability certificate which is self-explanatory. The company collected money for the premium and rejected my proposal without raising any question. This is nothing but discrimination against a disabled person,” he added.

Source: Times of India