Showing posts with label Pankaj Sinha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pankaj Sinha. 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.


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

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:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Delhi High Court- Extra Premium or Reduced Insurance Cover, both discriminatory against Disabled [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

Refer to my earlier posts on 02 Sep 2009, 09 October 2009 and 21 January 2010 on the issue since the matter has been pending before the Delhi High Court. There were several occasions that the Court was about to pronounce judgement however, Union of India bought time on each hearing with a promise that they are amending the rules to remove the discriminatory practices against the persons with disabilities (read employees) in insurance sector and dragged the case to 2012. However, at the end, the court got infuriated the way the Government turned turtle on their own statement before the court and tried to justify the discrimination of extra premium.

The brief background of the case

In the instant case, the petitioner Mr. Vikas Gupta, through a public interest litigation, filed by Mr. Pankaj Sinha, a lawyer with visual impairment from Human Rights Law Network, brought to the notice of the court that the Postal Life Insurance Policy issued for the benefit of government employees was inherently discriminatory against employees with disabilities. It allowed the maximum sum insured for employees with disabilities to only Rs. 1 lac while their non-disabled counterparts enjoyed a maximum insurance cover of 5 lacs. Not only this, the employees with disabilities were paying a higher premium than those without disabilities.

Thus through this litigation, the petitioner sought parity in the maximum sum assured and premium charged from the employees with disabilities in comparison to the employees without disabilities. When the matter came up for hearing and notice was issued, Postal Life insurance realizing their follies, issued a notification during pendency of the petition raising the maximum insurance coverage for employees with disabilities to that of non-disabled employees i.e. up to Rs. 5 lakhs. However, they continued to charge extra premium from the employees with disabilities.

The petitioner argued that the extra premium charged was without any scientific justification. When the court sought explanation from PLIC, the Additional Solicitor General stated before the court that they do not discriminate on the basis of disability and there is no extra premium charged.

However, later Union of India turned turtle on their statement and justified the extra premium from the employees on the blanket ground of disabilities and argued that the Insurance Policy was a contract between the insurer and the insured. That in the insurance business a pool was created through contributions made by persons seeking to protect themselves from common risk. Premium was collected by insurance companies which also act as trustee to the pool. Any loss to the insured in case of happening of an uncertain event was paid out of this pool. It worked on the principle of risk sharing. Therefore, prejudice would be caused to the normal insured persons in case of any casualty of the disabled persons. As disabled persons are more prone to accidental risks as compared to normal persons and the amount which is to be paid to the family of the deceased would be paid out of the same pool.  Hence, it is justified to charge extra premium from the employees with disabilities. They also argued that extra premium payable by the disabled person is marginally different from the premium payable by normal persons. Further they justified the extra premium on the ground that the extent of handicap differs from one person to another and that they would continue to charge differential premium decided upon the health profile of the individual proponent.

The petitioner argued that the extra premium clause has no scientific base nor can be justified by any legal enactment or any empirical study. On the contrary, such a standalone stipulation for Persons with Disabilities in form of a special scheme in the Postal Life Insurance for Government employees was discriminatory, non-inclusive, unjust and violates principles of natural justice of equity and fairness and above all it ran against the mandate of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995 and the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities that India is a proud signatory to. Further, it specifically violated Articles 3 and 25(e) of the UN Convention.

The petitioner accepted the rationale of PLI to the extent that any loss to the insured in case of happening of an uncertain event is paid out of this pool and that it worked on the Principle of risk sharing. However the petitioner strongly refuted that disabled persons are more prone to accidental risks as compared to normal persons. On the contrary, the petitioner argued, there was no empirical study or data to support or substantiate such a baseless, false and biased view which only reinforced the stereotypes about persons with disability and their proneness to accident.

Petitioner argued that the right to equality and non-discrimination were inalienable rights which couldn't be taken away by any contract and charging extra premium from employees with disabilities was a direct discrimination with them on the basis of disability which was in direct conflict with Article 2 of UNCRPD.

The petitioner also argued that the justification of health profile put forward by the respondents was faulty for they seem to treat disability as a negative health profile. It was stressed that living with disability was distinct from suffering from a life threatening disease, while the respondent seemed to consider both as synonymous. An employee with visual impairment or with hearing impairment or with neurological impairment also enjoyed good health like anybody else. Therefore, an employee living with a disability would not mean that he / she was suffering from a disease and prone to life risks or susceptible to die prematurely. Such a conclusion on the part of respondent was illogical, arbitrary, had no empirical base and without any understanding of disability, hence, such a conclusion was required to be struck down.

The judgement 

Hon’ble High court in the instant case agreed that charging extra premium from employees with disabilities was indeed a discrimination on the basis of disability and therefore through this remarkable judgement directed the postal life insurance to provide equal insurance coverage and not charge extra premium from the employees with disabilities.
  • Download the Vikas Gupta Vs. UOI judgement [PDF 381 KB]  
  • For copy of the interim notification raising the maximum insurance amount to Rs. 5 lakh, [word file

The Road Ahead

I see this judgment  as a milestone in the disability rights movement with far-reaching implications not only in India but also beyond India and especially in European countries where the Actuaries continue to discriminate against persons with disabilities by under-valuing their lives. However, India, its Courts and the persons with disabilities are very progressive on this front and the western countries can follow suit at least on this count.

This is just a beginning. We need a well devised future strategy  to dismantle the entire regime of discrimination that is prevailing in the insurance sector and the immediate challenges are:

(a) The insurance sector still discriminates on the basis of etiology of the disability i.e. causes of disability, whether it is from birth and after birth; neurological or physical and  then rates their lives accordingly,  which in my considered view has again no scientific base.

(b) The persons with neurological disabilities are still not allowed any insurance policy and needs to be challenged.

(c) PLI is an insurance scheme for the benefit of government employees hence, it will cover a very small section of persons with disabilities. Those who are outside the government jobs especially those in rural areas are far away from reaping the benefits of insurance. Though the judgement challenges the principles that have so far formed the basis for denying the  insurance to the disabled.

(d) The Actuaries who are in the business of assessing the life risks are not aware of the real challenges and the lives of the persons with disabilities and they continue to live in their own world and decide on their own whims, the risk calculation of the life of a person with disabilities. They need to be sensitized and made aware not only about the lives of persons with disabilities but also the rights regime that UNCRPD brings.

(e) The entire literature on insurance that I had to read while pursuing this case from outside, I found it reinforced the stereotypes about persons with disabilities and their proneness to accident! Hence, we need new literature for future actuaries to understand that Disability can not be treated always as a negative health profile and that living with disability was distinct from suffering from a life threatening disease.

(f) There is a need to raise awareness that a person with visual impairment or with hearing impairment or with neurological impairment also enjoys good health like anybody else.

(g) The rules of Insurance sector needs to be changed in light of this judgement and applied across the sector. All insurance  issuing companies - be it private or government have to factor in the principles of this judgement and make amends.

(h) The discrimination continues unabated in not just in `life insurance, sector but in health insurance and other insurance products on the offer. This needs to be addressed on priority.

(j) We need to take this awareness to the most marginalized persons with disabilities in rural areas through several means.  

I am sure we all are up for it and would take this to its logical end.


Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Delhi High Court questions discrimination in Online Reservation in Railways

HC backs e-ticketing for disabled

Read the news directly from source:
Supporting the idea of e-ticketing facility for the physically challenged, the Delhi High Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Railways and the central government on a PIL demanding web reservation for them at concessional rates.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the authorities must first display the sensitivity and that the technical requirements could be taken care of subsequently.

Admitting a PIL filed by advocate Pankaj Sinha, a visually challenged lawyer, the Bench directed the counsel for the Railways and Additional Solicitor General A S Chandhiok, appearing for the central government, to explain why facility was denied to physically challenged people.

The Bench dismissed the argument of the Railways counsel that the physically challenged were not given the facility of e-ticketing because of concessions they availed and that their documents regarding the disability were to be verified first.

“How can you place it as a justification? They can always be asked to show documents before they start or during travel,” the Bench observed.

The court will now hear the matter on May 18.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Govt. buys six more weeks to amend postal insurance rules to stop discrimination against the disabled employees

Dear Friends,

This is in continuation to my earlier post on the discriminaton in Postal Life Insurance to the disabled wherein Hon'ble High Court of Delhi directed the Govt. to explain their stand. There have been some development on 07 October 2009 which are detailed below. I appreciate Ms. Sangeeta Sharma for covering this in her article for UNI and published in

Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Advocate

Govt seeks 6 weeks time to amend insurance rules for disabled
07th October 2009

The Centre today sought more time to amend its insurance rules for disabled to bring them at par with the insurance rules of others.The lawyer appearing on behalf of Solicitor General (SG) Gopal Subramanium told the bench, comprising Chief Justice A P Shah and Justice S Murlidhar, that the Government has had talks with the Chairman of Life Insurance Corporation and some changes have been made in the policy which governs the Insurance of the disabled.

The LIC will consult the Actuaries, ‘who will also consider the amendments and get back to us, therefore, we need at least six weeks time to make such amendments,’ the lawyer said. The Delhi High Court had earlier directed the Centre to reconsider its postal insurance rules and to treat the persons with disability at par with other people. Appearing on behalf of the government, Solicitor General (SG) Gopal Subramanium assured the court that the government will take broad base consultation with experts and also take advice from the insurance regulator and draft a fresh policy, which will have no disparity for the disabled.

The Court had directed the ASG to consider the rules again and draft a policy in a manner that it should not be discriminatory and must consider the distinction between various types of disability as well as mortality factor caused by it.

‘Moreover, life expectancy and other factors should also be taken into account,’ Justice Shah said. A petition was filed by one Vikas Gupta, an Assistant Professor in Department of History, Delhi University, who is visually impaired. In his petition he said, ‘Rules of the postal insurance for government employees is discriminatory as it gives a cover of Rs 5 lakh to a normal person, but a handicap has to pay much more premium and gets an insurance cover of Rs one lakh only.’

The lawyer for the petitioner Mr Pankaj Sinha, also a visually impaired, and lawyer Ms Roma Bhagat told the court that Article 25 E of United Nations Convention On the Rights for Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) prohibit discrimination in the insurance policy.

Ms. Bhagat told the court that their research has shown that those who are hearing impaired, visually impaired or orthopedically impaired are less prone to accidents as they have less mobility and are more cautious. She told the court that there is no data available in India to show the cause of death as the death certificate des not mention it. Also, there is no data to suggest that disabled are more prone to accidents, so why they have to pay more to get a less insurance cover, Ms Bhagat said.


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

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.


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.