Showing posts with label HRLN. Show all posts
Showing posts with label HRLN. Show all posts

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Delhi High Court strikes down arbitrary Writer / Scribe Guidelines of ICAI

Dear Colleagues,


Please refer to my earlier post titled  ICAI imposes arbitrary Writers / Scribes Conditions for Students with Disabilities to know the background.

In the instant case, the examinees with disabilities of Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), who were due to write their exams tomorrow onwards i.e. 03rd May 2012, received  the Admit Card and impugned writer guidelines on 26th April 2012, just days before the examination with weekly holiday in between. Despite the fact that this guideline titled; “Guidelines and Procedure to be followed regarding granting of Writer/ Extra Time to the Differently Abled Candidates” was finalized by the Examination Committee in its January 2012 meeting, the same was never put up on the website while there exist detailed instructions for examinees taking CA exams this year.

The examinees found these guidelines discriminatory and arbitrary and against the settled norms of writer guidelines.  This amounted to discouraging the students with disabilities from appearing in the forthcoming exams. The examinees immediately contacted the Addl Secretary (Exam) who told the candidates that he could not do anything since this was the decision of the Examination Committee taken during January 2012.

The examinees then contacted the author seeking help in resolving this issue so that they could appear in the examination with a proper writer.  It is pertinent to mention that the examinees with disabilities fearing retribution from the ICAI did not want to come out in open against the Institution.  The author also telephonically contacted the Addl. Secretary above, but he only promised that “he will look in to it”.

Sensing the non-serious attitude of the officer, the author immediately filed a complaint before the Chief Commissioner- Disabilities on 27th April 2012 seeking an urgent intervention in view of the exam starting 03rd of May 2012.

The Dy. Chief Commissioner, having verified the facts and the documents on record, immediately sent his order dated 30.04.2012 by email & Fax to the ICAI directing them to remove the unreasonable conditions for the writer to be used by candidates with disabilities and sought an action taken report by email/fax. 

The author has been following up since then with the ICAI but to no avail. The Institute  neither gave any assurance nor  withdrew the impugned guidelines.

Since no student was ready to come forward in open against the mighty Institution set up under an Act of Parliament in 1949 and the second largest accounting body in the whole world, the author was forced to become petitioner in an urgent "public interest litigation" filed before the Delhi High Court yesterday morning praying quashing of the impugned guidelines and staying the examinations/ making proper arrangements for the conducting examinations of persons with disabilities who may be using the writers/ scribes based on the earlier guidelines in the interest of justice. I must thank my associate Pankaj Sinha, a visually challenged lawyer at Human Rights Law Network for arguing the matter before the Hon'ble Court.

The double bench of Hon'ble Chief Justice Shri. AK Sikri and Hon'ble Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw directed the Institute to relax all three impugned conditions i.e.
  • Writer to be not more than 20 years, 
  • Only one writer to write all exams and lastly 
  • relative can not write the exams.
The Hon'ble court also verbally asked the media people present in the court to give wide coverage to this issue in national dailies so that it reaches all affected students and their families. 

Respecting the autonomy of the Institution, the Hon'ble Court clarified in its order,  "This order is only applicable for the current examination (May 2012 Exam.) and the Examination Committee of the ICAI  who is meeting to discuss this issue on 13 May 2012 will be entitled to take its own decision after considering the difficulties pointed out by the petitioner in this petition. This petition shall also be placed before the Examination Committee and treated as representation of the petitioner and the aforesaid arrangement made by us for the present examination would not be reflective of any final opinion in this matter."

At the same time, it also addressed the fears of the petitioner by ordering, "We make it clear that in case any amendments in the Guidelines are made by the respondent ICAI pursuant to the recommendations of the Examination Committee and the petitioner still feels aggrieved thereagainst, it would be open to the petitioner to approach the Courts again."

Documents available for Download

I am providing following documents that may come handy for parents, fellow activists and students to take up similar matters of discrimination before various forums.

(a)  Copy of Order of the Chief Commissioner -Disabilities in   PDF File.

(b)  Copy of the PIL Petition to the High Court of Delhi (Brief)  in PDF File 

(c)  Copy of the Judgement of the Hon'ble High Court in PDF File

Reflections of Stakeholders

Since morning I have been receiving thank you messages from parents, relatives, students, NGOs for this relief from the court of Hon'ble Chief Justice. Many parents while talking to me on phone broke down and expressed that they were feeling very helpless since they couldn't do much against the Institution in such a short span when three days before the exam it hands them such whimsical guidelines aimed at discouraging their wards to appear for the exams. I want to say to all such parents, affected persons not to accept injustices quietly. Please raise your voice. We have a very supportive Chief Commissioner- Disabilities as well as Judiciary (High Court) to ensure that justice is rendered to the needy, provided their doors are knocked in time.

Acknowledgments

I want to take this opportunity to thank  Shri TD Dhariyal, the Dy. Chief Commissioner- Disabilities and his desk officer Shri. Rajeev Malhotra, for being prompt in verifying the matter and issuing an immediate order to the ICAI and constantly following up the matter at my request. I also want to thank Mr. Pankaj Sinha, from HRLN for mentioning this matter out of turn before the Hon'ble Chief Justice at my request and then arguing the matter before the court successfully.

Media Coverage




HC asks ICAI to relax norms for disabled
TIMES NEWS NETWORK 

New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Wednesday directed the Institute of Charted Accountants in India (ICAI) to relax conditions for disabled candidates appearing for the CA examination that began on Wednesday. 

 While hearing a PIL seeking quashing of fresh guidelines of the ICAI for the examinees with disabilities appearing for this year’s CA examination, a division bench of acting Chief Justice A K Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw directed the institute to allow a relative of a disabled candidate to act as a writer during the examination. 

The court, however, said the writers for disabled students should not be from commerce background. In its order, the court also directed ICAI, which conducts the examination, to allow the examinees to change the writer throughout the examination that will last till May 17. 

Making it clear that this court’s order is only for this year’s examination, the bench asked the Examination Committee of ICAI to consider the issue and make necessary amendments in the guidelines for the examinations in future.

Other Coverage:












Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Deaf Can Now Legally Drive in India

Dear Friends,

While the activists and disability rights workers are actively engaged in writing, commenting, criticizing and suggesting on the New Disability Act, this success for the deaf people of India has silently knocked their doors. I have been closely following this case filed by Human Rights Law Network since September 2009 when it was admitted (click here to read my first post in Sep, 09) after an aborted attempt on an earlier date.  

I am so delighted to share with you all that after a wait of several months(click here to read Nov 2009 post)  finally yesterday i.e. on 14th February 2011, the double bench of  Hon'ble Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, of Delhi High Court delivered their judgement. (Click here to read the judgement)

You will notice that the judgement doesn't speak a single word against the Union of India nor against the existing system of issuing licences, yet beautifully carves out a way that deaf people in India can not be discriminated against merely on the basis of their disability!

The Question in Form 1-A [which deals with medical certificate and relates to Rules 5(1), 5(3), 7, 10(a), 14(d) and 18(d)] of MV Act 1988  that was filled up by the doctor,] i.e. "In your opinion, does the applicant suffer from a degree of deafness which would prevent his hearing the ordinary sound signals? " has become irrelevant in light of this judgement! 

The Hon'ble Judges have, without making any comment on the  stand /defence of the Government of India in the case, simply reproduced the same to amuse the readers. I am reproducing  the  major defences of the Government of India for your amusement. For your information these defences are  based on a conclusion of a meeting of all relevant officials from various ministries including Road Transport, Health etc:

(i) Indian roads have far more hazards than in those countries which have been referred to in the petition.  This is evident from the fact that there is highest number of road facilities worldwide occurring due to road crash in India.  Indian roads have dense vehicle population.  The pattern of driving is also mix.  Besides, there is also lack of traffic discipline.  While using the roads, it is predominantly required to give audio signal to the vehicles around to caution other drivers or for giving way.  Such situations are not seen in developed countries.
(ii) Use of rear view mirror may not be a full proof solution because vehicles often are not fitted with such mirrors on both sides. Even if they are fitted on the vehicle, the users often fold them back.
(iii) In case of hilly roads, it is mandatory to blow horn on the sharp as well as blind corners.  The driver would be in a dangerous position if he is unable to hear the audio signal.

(iv) While driving the vehicle, inside noise, such as running of engine, tyre noise etc. is an indicator for the health and safety of the vehicle.  The deaf person will be in an unsafe situation because he will not be able to gather these signals.

(v) Luxury vehicles are often fitted with audio systems.  Loud music inside the vehicle may pose unsafe situation but purely by the choice of the driver and hence, cannot be made a ground for allowing deaf persons to drive.
(vi) The UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities does not qualify the extent of deafness.
(vii) In developed countries, there is a system for imparting training to deaf people in order to obtain driving licence.  There is no such system prevalent in the country.

(viii) International Driving Permit is valid for one year only and thereafter even a foreign national is required to obtain the driving licence afresh as per the existing rules and regulations in the country.  Thus, analogy given in this regard between the foreign national and Indian national is not correct.
(ix) Every year a large number of accidents took place in the country involving motor vehicles on roads.  Many of them prove to be fatal.  During the year 2007 alone, there were around 4.8 lakhs road accidents which killed around 1.15 lakh people and injured more than 5 lakhs person in India.  While the Government has been making all efforts to bring down the rate of accidents substantially, it cannot afford to take the risk of endangering the lives of deaf drivers as well as other road users.

And finally this Committee opined:  "Hearing levels up to 60 db with use of hearing aid in better ear may be permitted for issue of driving licence for private vehicle and hearing level up to 40 db with hearing aid in better ear may be permitted for issue of driving licence for commercial vehicle.  Persons suffering with severe and persistent vertigo should not be issued a driving licence."

This was like only reiterating what existed earlier!

The Judges in the operative para of the judgement categorically stated the statutory requirement,  "However, we are obliged to certify that if an applicant is totally deaf, he has to be called for the test if he applies for a learner‘s licence without the medical certificate and if he passes the test as required under Rule 11, he  shall be granted the learner‘s licence as that is the statutory requirement.   Similarly, if a person belonging to the said category satisfies the necessary  criteria, he shall be allowed to obtain the licence."

The judges refrained from making any comment on the important issues raised in the writ petition or criticizing the government action. Also they refused to take liberty to enter the domain of legislature on the prayer of changing the policy on the subject and said insegregable facet of the basic structure of the Constitution of India. 

This gives sufficient indication to the Government of India to appropriately change their discriminatory and restrictive practices against persons with hearing impairment. We hope the Government will take appropriate steps to set the malady right.

At my personal level, being a lawyer, I was looking for some strong words from the Hon'ble Court on the conduct of the so called committee of technical people who opined that the deaf can be danger to public without even appreciating the documents on record! However, the court did not comment on any issue that could have directly targeted any government official.

So, silently the purpose has been achieved. I hope the systemic changes will also take place and Deaf people will not be harassed while seeking valid licences.  

Now a passing remark from a stakeholder, "At least now deaf people would be able to drive legally with valid driving licence. Who bothers about going and taking a driving test, when driving licences can be bought through middlemen without even going to RTO in other states, if not in Delhi!"

The jobs doesn't end here. After this judgement, the major work is to spread the word around about this judgement and get the relevant rules changed in all states and union territories across the length and breadth of India. The DPOs and activists have this major role to perform. I want to congratulate my senior colleague Shri Collin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate, Mr. Pankaj Sinha, Advocate and their team for so successfully taking up this case which is almost like re-writing the rules of equality - at least for deaf people of this country. I am sure, my friend Arun Rao and friends from National Association of the Deaf would agree to this. Congratulations to one and all!

regards
SC Vashishth
Advocate, Disability Rights

Read newspaper coverage in Hindustan Times at link: 


Hearing impaired can drive: HC

Harish V Nair, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, February 15, 2011
In a landmark judgment benefiting 50 million people in the country, the Delhi high court on Monday said people with hearing impairment can also drive.

If they meet the necessary criteria and pass the test, they will be given driving licences and allowed to drive, the high court said.

Hitherto, deaf were barred from appearing in driving tests as the archaic Motor Vehicles Act considered them a source of danger to the public.

A bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra said, “Even if an applicant is totally deaf, he has to be called for a test. Even if he applies for a learner’s licence without a medical certificate and clears the test, he should be granted a learner’s licence. 

The order comes in a two-year-old PIL by the National Association of Deaf seeking direction to allow them to obtain a driving licence.

Human rights activist and lawyer Colin Gonsalves who argued the case on the behalf of the deaf said: “It is a historic judgement. Till now, deaf was presumed to be incapable of driving and were automatically debarred from even sitting for a test. He said deaf are allowed to drive all over the world, except in 26 countries.

Defending denial of license to deaf, the Centre cited the prevailing road manners in India and the frightening accident rate, the highest in the world. It said a special meeting of Central Motor Vehicles Rules- technical standing committee convened on December 9, 2010, which considered the PIL, had reaffirmed the decision. Court, however, refused to direct special conditions permitted by other countries for grant of licence to deaf saying it was the duty of the legislature.



Monday, November 9, 2009

Awaited Judgement on Driving Licences to the Deaf

Dear All

I am eagerly waiting for the judgement but each time the Learned ASG has been seeking time on behalf of Govt. of India to frame rules!

Waiting for the day when he will come in the court with amended rules!

regards

Subhash

India's deaf may get licence to drive

The Government of India is considering issuing driving licences to hearing impaired people by amending the Motor Vehicles Act

Published on 11/9/2009 2:08:16 PM
By Kanu Sarda

New Delhi: India is one of the few countries in the world where the hearing impaired are not allowed to drive. But this may change soon, with the government informing the Delhi High Court it is considering changing its rules.

"We are considering issuing driving licences to hearing impaired people and thinking of amending our rules and regulations," Additional Solicitor General AS Chandiok informed a division bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S Muralidhar.

The court has granted the government three months' time to take a decision and posted the matter for December 16.

At present, the Motor Vehicles Act prohibits the deaf from obtaining a driver's licence on the ground that they could be a source of danger to the public. There is around 50 million hearing impaired in India.

The court was hearing a public interest petition by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), seeking a direction to quash the requirement of having no hearing impairment for the issuance of a driving licence.

According to the NAD, the deaf are allowed to drive all over the world except in 26 countries including India.

"The only reason why India is not willing to issue licences is that Indian vehicles lack the special gadgets that other countries' vehicles have. But we are considering the same and hoping that we will be able to amend some rules," Chandiok informed the bench.

According to medical experts, those who can hear up to 60 decibels with the use of a hearing aid can be permitted to hold a driving licence for private vehicles, while those with a hearing level of up to 40 decibels with hearing aid can be allowed to drive commercial vehicles.

According to the petitioner, even the Delhi Police website indicates that deaf people can drive and states, "There is no reason why a deaf person cannot drive a private motorcar. However, the possibility of additional rear vision mirrors may need to be considered."

Monday, September 21, 2009

When Deaf People could drive all over the World why not in India?

Dear Friends,
No wonder people often exclaim on the road "are you deaf?" when they don't get a side while overtaking another vehicle. Well, this long settled notion is going to wither away in India while we are moving towards more equalitarian and rights based society with this Writ Petition not only being admitted by the Delhi High Court on the petition filed by my colleagues at HRLN, more particularly Mr. Pankaj Sinha, the young lawyer, but also calling upon the Government of India to respond as to why this Writ not be issued and made absolute in favour of the petitioners.

You will be surprised to know that earlier also such attempts were made at Delhi High Court by the NGOs but the petitions were dismissed at the admission stage itself. But this time, a well drafted and well researched document was prepared by the lawyers and also perhaps first time articles of UNCRPD were used to articulate the injustice being meted out to this segment of the disabled fraternity in India.

World over the deaf are allowed to drive vehicles like any body else with some additional conditions of an extra back view mirror. This is with the scientific rationale that driving involves almost 80-90% visual activity and Deaf could be safe drivers without any risk to fellow travellers. Additionally with many new gadgets coming in the market to compensate the loss of hearing with other sensory organs, this discrimination is of course against the very principle of equality that Constitution of India grants to all its citizens including those experiencing hearing difficulties.

The Writ Petition being a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) is going to have far reaching consequences for the Ministry of Transport for they have to evolve now to address this issue and change all their laws, rules, procedures, forms, medical statements etc to include this segment.
I congratulate NAD (National Association of the Deaf), Advocate Pankaj Sinha and Senior Advocate Collin Gonsalves and 50 million deaf Indians on this success. We have moved a step further towards realising equality for all in India.



The news coverage:

'Should deaf drive? Centre says yes; HC to take call'

Why should an Indian deaf national be denied this right? 
COLIN GONSALVES, Senior lawyer
NEW DELHI:

Here's some good news for around 50 million hearing impaired people in the country.
The Centre has submitted before Delhi High Court that it is considering allowing those suffering from hearing disability to obtain a driving licence.

The archaic Motor Vehicles Act prohibits the deaf from obtaining a drivers' licence, saying they could be a "source of danger to the public".

The court is hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) seeking a direction to quash the requirement of having "no hearing impairment for the issuance of driving licence".

A Bench of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice Manmohan on Friday recorded the statement by Additional Solicitor General A.S. Chandiok appearing for the Centre that they are considering all the relevant materials and will make appropriate recommendations on issuing driving licences to the hearing impaired. The process is set to be completed in four weeks.

Road Transport and Highways Ministry counsel Jyoti Singh said medical experts are of the view that those who can hear sound up to 60 decibels with the use of hearing aid can be permitted hold a driving licence for private vehicles, while those with hearing level up to 40 decibels with hearing aid can be allowed to drive commercial vehicles.
Singh said a specially constituted high-powered committee of the ministry will soon meet to discuss the issue.

DELHI COPS BACK PLAN

The PIL also draws strength from views expressed by Delhi Police on its website that deafness does not render one incapable of driving safely. "There is no reason why deaf people should not be allowed to drive,"the website says. But it suggests use of additional rear-view mirrors by this category of drivers The NAD said the deaf are allowed to drive all over the world, except in 26 countries. In the UK, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Thailand and Malaysia authorities insist on special double rear-view mirrors. In Malaysia and Sri Lanka this category of drivers are to indicate the handicap by putting a sticker on the back of the car so that other drivers do not hoot at the driver. But they are not allowed to drive commercial or passenger vehicles.

Senior lawyer and human rights activist Colin Gonsalves, who represented the NAD, told the court that discrimination against the deaf in India was a clear violation of Article 14 of the constitution.

"A deaf person with an international driver's licence is able to drive in India, then why should an Indian deaf national be denied this right? The Constitution demands equality for all before the law," he said.