Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Triputa HC: Employer's Failure To Meet Needs Of Disabled Persons Breaches Norms of "Reasonable Accommodation" [Judgement included]

Court: Tripura High Court, Agartala, India

Bench/Judge: Hon'ble Mr. Justice Arindam Lodh

Case Title:   WP(C) 694 of 2020 | Sri Bijoy Kumar Hrangkhawl v. Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited (TSECL) and Ors.

Date of Judgement:  01 Aug 2022

Cases Referred/quoted : Vikash Kumar Vrs. Union Pulbic Service Commission & Ors., (2021) 5 SCC 370. 

The case in brief

The petitioner was an employee of Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited. During the course of performing his duties, he met with an accident which rendered him disabled. He was not paid salary by the Corporation because he could not perform the duties he owed to the Corporation as their employee, though he was willing to join and perform duties which would be commensurate with his disability.

The Tripura High Court observed that employers must "reasonably accommodate" persons with disabiliteis into service and that failure to do so violates their rights under  The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

The Court also refered to Secction 47 of the Persons with Disabilties  Act 1995 (now repealed) and a DoPT Memorandum dated 25 Feb 2015 on subject "Amendment to Central Civil Service (Leave) Rules, 1972 - Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (PWD Act, 1995)- regarding" and  expressed that the aforesaid memorandum dated 25th February, 2015 was further reviewed in the year 2016 where the rights of persons with disabilities were not in any way diluted rather expanded the rights of such persons. It mandates that the State-employer must create conditions in which the barriers posed by disability can be overcome.

It is pertinent to note that the protections available under Secction 47 of the PWD Act 1995 have been contined in Section 20(4) of the RPWD Act 2016 as below:

"20. Non-discrimination in employment. - (1) No Government establishment shall discriminate against any person with disability in any matter relating to employment:

Provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type of work carried on in any establishment, by notification and subject to such conditions, if any, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.

(2) Every Government establishment shall provide reasonable accommodation and appropriate barrier free and conducive environment to employees with disability.

(3) No promotion shall be denied to a person merely on the ground of disability.

(4) No Government establishment shall dispense with or reduce in rank, an employee who acquires a disability during his or her service:

Provided that, if an employee after acquiring disability is not suitable for the post he was holding, shall be shifted to some other post with the same pay scale and service benefits:

Provided further that if it is not possible to adjust the employee against any post, he may be kept on a supernumerary post until a suitable post is available or he attains the age of superannuation, whichever is earlier.

(5) The appropriate Government may frame policies for posting and transfer of employees with disabilities."

The single bench presided by Mr. Justice Arindam Lodh in his order remarked,  "The conduct of the concerned officer is not in consonance with the object the legislatures wanted to achieve. Keeping in mind the objectives of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the respondents should realize the challenge the petitioner has been facing and accommodate him with humane approach. Any failure to meet the needs of disabled person will definitely breach the norms of reasonable accommodation."

It is the case of the petitioner that while the petitioner was discharging his duties he suffered an accident and out of that accident, he became disabled. Due to such disability, he could not attend his duties. It is the contention of the respondents that the salary of the petitioner was duly paid upto 16.03.2020. Thereafter, no salary was paid to the petitioner though he was all along willing to join to perform his duties commensurate to his disability. From the report of the Standing Medical Board, it is clear that the petitioner was not in a position to perform his official and field level activities which may work out throughout the State. In spite of that report, the petitioner was not paid his due salary and other allowances treating his absence from duty as unauthorized.

Court noted that a plea has been taken that the respondents did not accept his joining report or leave application as he did not report to the joining authority in person. He expressed his willingness to join his duties by submitting an application to the authority concerned. But it was refused on the pretext that the petitioner was not physically appeared before the concerned authority which is not at all expected. The conduct of the concerned officer is not in consonance with the object the legislatures wanted to achieve.

Keeping in view the above objective, the court directed the respondents to "reasonably accommodate" the petitioner and passed the folloiwng order:

"(i) the respondents are to pay all the cumulative dues such as salary, allowances, etc. which were payable to the petitioner under his service conditions within a period of three month from today;

(ii) the salary and allowances payable to the petitioner shall be released from this month and regularize his service conditions by way of recalling all the earlier orders passed by TSECL treating his absence from duty as unauthorized absence. Those unauthorized absence period, according to the TSECL, shall be regularized and that would not have any bearing to the service of the petitioner;
(iii) if it is found that the petitioner is eligible to perform his duty, then, he may be permitted to undertake such duties. Further, if the petitioner is found to be unfit to perform the nature of duties, which he was performing before being disabled, then, he should be assigned/adjusted with such suitable duties which he would be able to discharge;

(iv) if the petitioner is found incapable of performing any kind of duties, then, the respondents are under obligation and shall pay all service benefits including the promotion to the petitioner by creating a supernumerary post until a suitable post is available or he attains the age of superannuation;

(v) the respondents shall utilize capacity of the petitioner by providing and environment around him and ensure reasonable accommodation by way of making appropriate modifications and adjustments in the spirit of the discussions and observations made here-inabove;

(vi) the petitioner shall appear before the constituted Medical Board of the State Government within 7 (seven) days from today. The Medical Board shall examine and issue necessary certificate mentioning the extent of his disability in consonance with the RPwD Act; and

(vii) it is not advisable to send the petitioner to the Medical Board time and again."

What is missed in this judgement.

The judgement though extends relief to the petitioner, it  adopts some very poor legal reasoning for the relief provided.

Firstly, the judgement fails to appropriately explain the “reasonable accommodation” & its relation to the employment rules. In fact there was no reference needed to be made with reasonable accommodation since the law is clear on the protections available under the Act to a person acquirng disability while in service. It ensures that such a person will not be discriminated against merely because of the disabilty acquired and his job, post and related benefits would be protected even when the person is unable to perform any functions. 

Secondly, it presents that the barriers faced by disabled persons arise from their medical condition of disability, rather than the disabling environment around them which mmay be inform of inaccessible built environment, discriminatory employment policies and practices.

Thus the thought processs and the reasoning given in the judgemement doesn't gel with the overal scheme of the RPWD Act and jurisprudence developed through various case laws since 1996.

Read the judgement embedded below:

No comments:

Post a Comment