Showing posts with label Blind as Lawyers/Advocates/Solicitors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blind as Lawyers/Advocates/Solicitors. Show all posts

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:



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/

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mumbai HC cites the capabilities of Blind as Solicitors & Advocates to deny claim of tax exemption for Eye Checkup

Dear Friends,

There are two areas worth noting in this judgement. Firstly, the Mumbai High Court has indicated that Blindness is no handicap in discharging the duties of a solicitor or an advocate and by that analogy even a judge. Secondly, you may not be able to claim tax exemption for tour expenses even for reasons of an eye test in computing the income chargeable under the head profits and gains from business or profession.

Shot in arm for disability advocates who have been facing extreme resistance from some states & their judiciary who have consistently denied people with blindness the opportunities of being  a judge by obtaining exemption under section 33 of the Disabilities Act. Crazy no?

Here is the news item from TNN:

Lawyer denied tax waiver for eye test done while abroad
Shibu Thomas, TNN | Oct 30, 2015, 01.30AM IST

MUMBAI: A person's eyes are not just used exclusively for professional purposes, said Bombay high court while rejecting a lawyer's claim seeking tax exemption for a foreign tour, which he claimed was a "pre-operative eye check-up".

A division bench of Justice M S Sanklecha and Justice Girish Kulkarni pointed to blind advocates practising in courts.

"Eyes are an important organ of the human body and are essential for the efficient survival of a human being. Eyes are essential not only for the purpose of business or profession but for purposes other than these," said the judges, adding, "We are not persuaded to accept the submission that eyes are required to be exclusively used for the purpose of profession. No evidence has been brought on record to establish that in the absence of investigation and treatment, the applicant would be handicapped in discharging his obligation as a solicitor/advocate. While at this, we cannot resist but point out that in this court itself, we have a couple of visually challenged advocates who are competent in discharging their duties."

The court also cited former advocate general of West Bengal Sadhan Gupta who was visually challenged. "It is therefore clear that the said expenditure as claimed by the advocate is not in the nature of the expenditure wholly and exclusively incurred for the purposes of the profession of the applicant and thus this expenditure cannot be claimed by the applicant to be allowed as deduction in computing the income chargeable under the head profits and gains from business or profession."

The court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Dhimant Thakkar, who claimed tax exemption for the period 1986-87 of an amount of Rs 43,600 for a foreign tour, which he claimed was in connection with preoperative tests. The income-tax department rejected the claim saying the expenses were for a personal reason.

The advocate claimed that but for this treatment he would not have been able to continue with his profession and therefore the expenditure ought to have been allowed as a deduction for professional expenses. The HC disagreed and concurred with the tax department that if the advocates claims were accepted, then "every and all expenses incurred on daily living and food would be allowable as part of tax exemption".