Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Court of CCPD issues notices to Department of Disability Affairs, GOI

Dear Colleagues,


Even after more than 16 years of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, there is no Uniform Guideline for availing scribes and writers by the persons with Low Vision and Blindness. The candidates continue to suffer in absence of such guidelines and are often on the mercy of the institution/ departments  both in the matter of studies as well as employment.

A recent PIL by the undersigned against ICAI for putting forth unreasonable guidelines for blind students was just an example in the recent past of such hardships faced by the visually impaired students/persons. Please see my earlier posts dated 26 April 2012 and 02 May 2012 on the subject. The court did solve the problem with its pro-active Order the same day for visually impaired students of ICAI but how many students and how many times will be able to afford going to knock the doors of judiciary?

In the year 2005, All India Confederation of Blind had also drafted a detailed guideline for the scribe highlighting the issues and shared with the Chief Commissioner Disabilities and the  concerned Ministry. This was also discussed during the annual meeting of the State Commissioner's Disabilities in subsequent year. However, it remained pending for a long time due to inaction of the then Disability Division (now Department of Disability Affairs).

Through a consultative process lead by Score Foundation, over 70 organisations working with the Persons with disabilities in India (especially Low Vision and Blind) to which I have been a party myself, had suggested an exhaustive document titled "Uniform Guidelines for Conducting Examinations (Practicals and/or Theory) for Blind and Low Vision Persons" and sent to  of Social Justice & Empowerment for their acceptance. However, it seems the Ministry has some other priorities than the every day sufferings of the stakeholders for which it exists.

The Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment is the nodal department to coordinate the implementation of the Disabilities Act but have not acted on the issue in the interest of justice to alleviate the hardships of the stakeholders and sitting over the above guidelines for a pretty long time leading to untold miseries and hardships to the stakeholders.

In an unprecedented manner, the Court of Chief Commissioner Disabilities has issued notice to the sister department i.e. Department of Disability Affairs, under the same Ministry and sought explanation in the following unequivocal words:

"Take this show cause notice and explain as to why the Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Govt, of India, should not be directed to finalise, issue & circulate to all concerned comprehensive and uniform guidelines/norms for conduct of all examinations (both academic & recruitment related) as soon as may be keeping in mind, among other things, the suggestions of the complainants; and, pending finalisation, issuance and circulation of such comprehensive guidelines/norms, to circulate to all concerned the proposed guidelines/norms submitted by Score Foundation vide their letter dated 06.06.2012 for persons with blindness and persons with low vision and evolved by several organisations including Score Foundation on or before 20.10.2012 under intimation to this Court. The respondent department's reply should also explain reasons for the inordinate delay in finalisation, issuance and circulation of such comprehensive and uniform guidelines/norms for all persons with disabilities.

The Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has further directed the respondent Department to appear before the Court of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities in person or through a representative (not below the level of Group 'A (Class-l officer) or a counsel well versed with the case and with all the related documents on 02/11/2012 at 3.00 p.m. to present the case unless uniform and comprehensive policy for conduct of all kinds of examinations for all persons with disabilities is duly finalised and notified before that date."

To read/download the Show Cause Notice click here.

I congratulate Mr. PK Pincha, Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Govt of India for rising up to the expectations in discharge of his constitutional duties under the law. I am hopeful that the officials of the Disability Division will not take it as an adversorial litigation like many other cases in which they keep defending the Ministry's (in)actions in the Delhi High Court and other forums- issue of sign language interpreter being just one odd example that is being contested by the Ministry for over two years now at the Government's expense!

It is an apathy on the part of the Ministry that the stakeholders- the persons with disabilities continue to suffer and it has to defend cases due to its in-actions in various courts and now face this show cause from a constitutional authority like CCPD. Hope the Department of Disability Affairs will notify the guideline without any delay before the next date of hearing in the court of CCPD i.e. 02nd November 2012.

regards

Adv Subhash C Vashishth



Mumbai HC panel to evaluate the prototype of Accessible Railway Station

Dear Colleagues,

This is further to my earlier post on 29th Jan 2012 titled Bombay High Court directs Railways to be Sensitive to Disabled.

There is some development in the case pending in the Mumbai High Court against the Indian Railways, however, this doesn't seems encouraging as an important member of the High Court appointed panel Mr. Sudhir Badami feels, "The railways should have involved us right at the stage of drawings. I have visited these facilities but they are not up to the mark," 

The Railways have put up a prototype of disabled-friendly low-height booking counters, a separate toilet and drinking water dispensing facility has been set up at Dadar station. 

"If the panel appointed by the high court gives its approval, Central Railway will start constructing similar facilities at other stations," said a senior Railways official. Western Railway has created a such facilities at Bandra Terminus. Currently, there are only six disabled-friendly toilets at 109 local stations in Mumbai. 

This is a result of a petition  filed by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law in the Bombay HC seeking directives to the railways to provide "accessible facilities at stations and on suburban trains"  which is pending adjudication in the Mumbai High Court. 

Delhi High Court directs the private schools to make their schools barrier free & inclusive

Dear Colleagues,

After its earlier order directing all private and government schools in Delhi to appoint Special educators for children with disabilities and provide necessary teaching and learning material, the Delhi High Court, on a petition by Social Jurist has now ordered to make all private schools barrier free for the disabled. 

It was brought to the notice of the court that private schools do not have adequate physical and academic infrastructure for children with disabilities and thus children forced in to these institution continued to face discrimination.

It was pointed out in the petition that there are 2039 unaided recognized private schools (1260 recognized by Directorate of Education (DoE), GNCTD and 779 recognized by MCD) and 258 aided recognized private schools (214 aided by DoE, GNCTD and 44 aided by MCD) in Delhi and most of them do not have the provisions of basic physical as well as academic infrastructure, including Special Educators as required for the education of the children with disabilities; These schools also did not provide barrier free infrastructure to the children with disabilities. This violated Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 of such children as guaranteed under Articles 14,15,21, 21-A & 38 of the Constitution of India as well as contrary to the provisions of Delhi School Education Act, 1973, Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, U.N. Convention on Rights of Child (1989) and U.N. Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).

The bench of Hon'ble Acting Chief Justice and Hon'ble Mr. Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw while hearing the petition W.P.(C) No.4618/2011 titled  Social Jurist, A civil rights group versus Govt. of NCT of Delhi directed all recognised, aided and unaided private schools in Delhi to appoint special educators and to make their buildings/school premises barrier-free for children with disabilities. The Director of Education has been directed to ensure that the Court Orders were followed and to de-recognise any school that has not made its premises disabled-friendly.

The court has now granted time up until March 31, 2013, to the schools to make their premises barrier-free and to appoint special educators with the next two years.

“Schools where children with special needs are already admitted or will be admitted hereafter shall immediately make provision for special educators...no school shall refuse admission to children with disability for the reason of not employing special educators or not providing barrier-free access on the school premises,” the court order says.

The court has also clarified that the capital expenditure on making the school building and premises barrier free so as to allow free movement to children with disability has to be incurred by the schools from their own coffers and is not reimbursable by the Government as Section 19 of the RTE Act requires all schools, as a condition for their recognition, to provide a barrier free access in their buildings.

The Court ordered that the schools where children with special needs are already admitted or will be admitted hereafter shall immediately make provision for Special Educators and further ordain that no school shall refuse admission to children with disability for the reason of not employing Special Educators or not providing barrier free access in the school premises. 

It may be pertinent to mention here that earlier a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court in matter Social Jurist, A Civil Rights Group Vs. Govt. of NCT of Delhi 163 (2009) DLT 489 had directed the GNCTD as well schools run by local bodies namely NDMC, MCD and Cantonment Board to ensure that each school shall have at least two special educators and that necessary teaching aids and reading materials are provided to children with disability. However, this did not cover the Private schools.

Those who want to go through the detailed order, Click here. W.P.(C) No.4618/2011

Media Coverage


regards
Adv Subhash Vashishth

Friday, September 14, 2012

Railways submits Scheme for Online Concessional Rail Ticket booking for persons with Disabilities to Delhi HC [Judgement Included]

Dear Readers,

The present case challenged the discriminatory policy of Indian Railways that denied the persons with disabilities right to book railway tickets online while the same service is readily provided to other persons. Case was successfully fought by Mr. Pankaj Sinha, an advocate with visual impairment with Human Rights Law Network.

The petition pointed out that whereas senior citizens could book their railway tickets at concessional rate on the internet as mentioned in the policy, persons with disabilities could not avail the same. Therefore, they are left with no other option but to get their railway ticket booked from the designated ticket counters at various railway stations and reservation centers.

Petition challenged the existing rules of Indian Railways and sought parity in extension of benefits that are currently available to senior citizens. The lawyer for the petitioner argued that denying such benefits violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India and also contravenes the provisions contained in Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, as well as the decision in Satyawati Sharma v. Union of India, AIR 2008 SC 3148.

Respondents argued that if such a service were offered, it would be abused.  It is pertinent to mention that the Railway Administration has already issued a warning  that if a concession certificate is obtained without meeting the required parameters, an enquiry can be launched as to how the person obtained that ticket. Additionally, the original documents that substantiate the plea of disability are required to be produced upon examination.

The policy for online ticket booking of senior citizens said- "In case of tickets booked through internet no concession is permitted except senior citizen."

Thus, as per this impugned policy, a person with disability was not entitled to avail the concessional facility in case the tickets are booked through internet, which is otherwise available to him if he/she buys from the designated ticket counters at various railway stations.

In response to the petition, the Railway Board, Ministry of Railways, Government of India were forced to prepare broad outline as under :-
• A unique Photo Identify Card would be issued by the concerned Zonal Railways to those physically challenged be as per the extant eligibility criteria subject to verification of proper supporting documentation. Issue of the said ID card will be a one-time activity, subject to re-validation from time to time, on the basis of which physically challenged will have access to e-ticket facility. • The card will be valid for a specified period and thereafter can be renewed subject to verification/completion of the necessary procedural formalities. • This card will contain a Unique-ID which will be used by the physically challenged for undertaking concessional booking through the internet. The details of the physically challenged who have been issued unique-id Cards will be stored in the PRS database and details can be verified at the time of internet-booking. Any fake ID Cards/false declarations can be verified and the particular Card suspended if the details a provided are not genuine/or as per prescribed norms. • The Card will have to be carried during journey and produced for verification during on-Board/Off-Board verification. • A Pilot based on the above outlines will be initially implemented as a pilot project for a period of one year. After six months a review will be undertaken to assess the performance and make modifications/system improvements if any, based on the feedback/learning outcomes.

Subsequently, the Govt. of India has earmarked suitable budget for implementing the above scheme. 

Judgement dated 12 Sep 2012 in W.P.(C) 2145 OF 2011 titled Praveen Kumar G vs Union Of India and Ors. 


Text of the Judgement


IN THE HIGH COURT OF DELHI AT NEW DELHI
W.P.(C) 2145 OF 2011

 Judgments Reserved on:22.8.2012
 Judgment Delivered on:12.09.2012


PRAVEEN KUMAR G                                    . . . PETITIONER
Through : Mr. Pankaj Sinha, Advocate.

                                 VERSUS

UNION OF INDIA and ORS.                               ... RESPONDENTS

Through: Mr. Rajeeve Mehra, ASG with Mr. R.V. Sinha, Mr. R.N. Sinha, Mr. Ashish Virmani, Advocates for UOI.

CORAM :-
HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE A.K. SIKRI HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE RAJIV SAHAI ENDLAW A.K. SIKRI, ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE:

1. This petition filed in public interest by a blind person alleges, in this petition the discrimination between disabled persons and senior citizens in the Policy of IRCTC which provides facilities and services for issuing the railway ticket on internet, or at the reservation counters. It is pointed out that whereas senior citizens can book their railway tickets at concessional rate on the internet as mentioned in the policy, disabled persons cannot avail the same. Therefore, they are left with no other option but to get their railway ticket booked from the designated ticket counters at various railway stations and reservation centres.

2. The policy of senior citizens is as under:-
"In case of tickets booked through internet no concession is permitted except senior citizen." Thus, a person with disability is not entitled to avail the concessional facility in case the tickets are booked through internet, which is otherwise available to him if he/she buys from the designated ticket counters at various railway stations.

3. The petitioner filed an application under Right to Information Act, 2005 to the Public Information Officer of the Indian Catering and Tourism Corporation limited on 18.9.2009 seeking information for travel concessions for completely blind persons on the website of IRCTC. The said application was replied by the IRCTC on 12.10.2009 stating that the travel concessions for blind persons for online ticket booking is a policy matter and needs to taken up by the Ministry. Hence, IRCTC shirked off its responsibility from this vital issue and no initiative was taken by the same regarding introducing the system of online ticket booking at concessional rate. The petitioner filed a representation to the Railway Board dated 3.6.2010 requesting the facility of concessional booking of tickets on IRCTC to be extended to the handicaps as is already done for the senior citizens. The said representation was replied by the Railway Board on 13.9.2010 stating that the concessional booking of ticket on IRCTC website has been extended where the physical document is not required to be submitted in advance as it might lead to misuse of the electronic reservation slip and hence, handicaps are not allowed to do the same. It is submitted that no effort has been made by the Ministry of railway to make the policy disabled friendly and have arbitrarily denied the facility to them. The Policy of IRCTC was formulated to provide as a feature to the public at large. Later, the internet ticket booking facility was introduced at concessional rates for the senior citizens. The said policy is formulated and issued by the Railway Board, which is under the Ministry of Railway. Thus, the said policy is exclusively for the public at large and the same is highlighted as the sole Eligibility Criteria on the website of the said department except the senior citizens, who are entitled for ticket booking through internet at concessional rate.

4. The submission of the petitioner is that the persons with disability cannot access this concession facility though provided to senior citizen and, therefore, it amounts to discrimination qua the disabled persons. With this, though the concessional facility is required, it cannot be effectively availed. It is submitted that the system of online ticket booking helps to save time and resources and also help the public at large to avoid long queue at the reservation counter. The said system has also helped the system of ticket booking more accessible and easy to handle. In this context it would be pertinent to mention that such a system for ticket booking would be magnanimously useful and beneficial for the persons with disability for whom the reservation counter in most of the occasions is inaccessible. The petitioner therefore calls for amendment to the Policy.

5. Notice in this petition was issued. Initially, the respondent filed the counter affidavit contesting the petition, pointing out the difficulties which may face by introducing this facility for disabled persons as well. The main apprehension of the Railways is that it may lead to misuse. Since it is a matter in public interest and not adversarial in nature and the intention was to find a solution, when it came up for argument on 21.12.2012, Mr. Chandhiok, learned ASG took time to enable the respondent to have a re-look in the matter and to find a solution as to who the facility of online ticketing with concession could be available, at the same time, scheme be devised that it prevents any misuse. Thereafter, the Railway Board, Ministry of Railway, Government of India prepared broad outline and placed before us. These are as under:-

  • A unique Photo Identify Card would be issued by the concerned Zonal Railways to those physically challenged be as per the extant eligibility criteria subject to verification of proper supporting documentation. Issue of the said ID card will be a one-time activity, subject to re-validation from time to time, on the basis of which physically challenged will have access to e-ticket facility.
  • The card will be valid for a specified period and thereafter can be renewed subject to verification/completion of the necessary procedural formalities.
  • This card will contain a Unique-ID which will be used by the physically challenged for undertaking concessional booking through the internet. The details of the physically challenged who have been issued unique-id Cards will be stored in the PRS database and details can be verified at the time of internet-booking. Any fake ID Cards/false declarations can be verified and the particular Card suspended if the details a provided are not genuine/or as per prescribed norms.
  • The Card will have to be carried during journey and produced for verification during on-Board/Off-Board verification.
  • A Pilot based on the above outlines will be initially implemented as a pilot project for a period of one year. After six months a review will be undertaken to assess the performance and make modifications/system improvements if any, based on the feedback/learning outcomes.

6. The petitioner has filed response to the aforesaid Draft Scheme dated 3.8.2012. Attempt is made to show that there can be a better system, as suggested by the petitioner, without any misuse. Since it is for the Government to devise the procedure and system and it is making endeavour in this behalf, we direct the respondents to take into consideration the suggestions given by the petitioner in its response dated 30.8.2012 and on that basis, further amendments in this scheme that may be feasible can be carried out. Mr. Rajeeve Mehra, learned ASG appearing for the Government submitted that there is always scope for improvement and these suggestions will be taken into consideration. The Railway Board can deliberate on these suggestions and come out with further recommendations if so required in the Draft Scheme suggested by it. If the petitioner still feels aggrieved, he is given liberty to approach again.

7. Writ petition stands disposed with these directions.

ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE                                                     (RAJIV SAHAI ENDLAW)
                                                                                                  JUDGE
SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Delhi High Court directs Private Schools to appoint 2 special educators

Dear colleagues,

Division Bench of the Delhi High Court has directed private schools to appoint two special educators to respect the mandate of the RTE Act. The court had already directed the Govt. of Delhi to appoint 2 Special educators in all government schools. This is a welcome step and calls for drastic changes in the way we look at education of children with disabilities.

Here is the news report from the Time of India.


'Special educators must in private schools’
Abhinav Garg, TOI



NEW DELHI: Disabled students enrolled in private schools received a unique gift from the Delhi high court on Teachers' Day - special educators.

A division bench comprising acting Chief Justice A K Sikri and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw directed all private unaided schools in the capital to hire two qualified special educators as per the mandate of the Right to Education Act (RTE).

The bench made it clear that special educators are required not just in government-run or aided schools but should also in private schools as they too enroll disabled students with special needs. HC was hearing a plea by civil rights organization Social Jurist which sought to extend appointment of special educators to private schools.

The court has already directed the government schools to appoint special educators for disabled children in 2009. It re-iterated the ruling earlier this year while hearing a contempt plea against the government for its failure to fill up vacancies for special educators.

The PIL, filed through advocate Ashok Agarwal, highlighted that 2039 unaided private schools and 258 aided schools lack basic physical and academic infrastructure, including special educators for those suffering from blindness, hearing impairment or mental retardation. "The failure on the part of these unaided and aided schools to have these facilities in place violates the fundamental and human right to education of the children with disabilities as guaranteed to them by the Constitution, RTE Act (2009) and UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (2008)," the PIL had argued.

On its part, the state government agreed with the need to have special educators and said all the unaided private schools of Delhi are required to make provisions for special educators for children with special needs. Earlier HC had directed the action committee of unaided private schools to file affidavit explaining about their position on recruitment of special educators, availability of provisions of ramps and special toilets etc. for the children with disabilities.

Source: Times of India

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Deaf and Speech Impaired can be Key Witnesses in Criminal Trial : SC

Dear Friends,

I firmly believe that exposure and practice can make you aware of things you wouldn't have ever believed or done. If you remember the much hyped Driving Licence for the Hearing Impaired case that I updated earlier on this blog several times on  20 September 2009,  09 November 2009 and 15 February 2011,  Hon'ble Justice Dipak Misra, then Chief Justice at the Delhi High Court headed the bench that heard the case. In the instant case, the deaf were declared competent to drive the private vehicles if they cleared the driving test like any body else by the Hob'ble Court.

Subsequently Chief Justice Dipak Misra  was elevated to the Hon'ble Supreme Court. The learnings from the above Deaf Driving case found their reflection in the judgement below that was pronounced by a bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra yesterday (i.e. 21 May 2012) in Criminal Appeal No. 870 of 2007 titled State of Rajasthan Versus Darshan Singh in Hon'ble Supreme Court.

In the instant case the High Court  of Judicature for  Rajasthan at Jodhpur set aside the judgment and order dated 15.1.2003 of the Additional  Sessions  Judge  (Fast  Track)  Hanumangarh, convicting the respondent  of  the offences punishable under Section  302  of  Indian  Penal  Code,  1860 and imposing the punishment to suffer rigorous imprisonment for life and to pay a fine of Rs. 500/- in default to further undergo one month simple imprisonment. This was on the basis of the evidence of the sole eye witness who was speech & hearing impaired and was the wife of the victim. She gave her evidence with the help of her father who acted as her interpreter.

The High Court did not found favour with the evidence of the sole eye witness as the court it raised questions over the competence of the deaf witness and process of recording the evidence and that the father of the eye witness who acted as interpreter was an interested party in the case.

Good points in the Judgement: 

Though I don't agree with the language used to refer to Speech and Hearing Impaired persons- where both our media and judiciary need to sit and take a note of, I am happy that the judgement looks promising and is a step towards progressive realization reiteration from the apex court of India that the deaf or the hearing impaired persons are no less competent when it comes to act as star witness in a criminal case.

Stating that a court can bank on a "deaf and dumb"  (read hearing and speech impaired) as a star witness in a criminal trial, the Justices refereed to Evidence Act that has changed to embrace the scientific fact that such people are "generally found more intelligent and susceptible to higher culture than one was once supposed". Section 119 of The Evidence Act mandates that a person unable to speak can use signs or write his or her testimony, which would be deemed oral evidence, if made in open court.

The court further explained, "Language is much more than words... A case in point is the silent movies which were understood widely because they were able to communicate ideas to people through novel signs and gestures."  It further observed, "Like all other languages, communication by way of signs has some inherent limitations since it may be difficult to comprehend what the user is attempting to convey. But a dumb person need not be prevented from being a credible and reliable witness merely due to his or her physical disability. Such a person though unable to speak may convey himself through writing if literate or through signs and gestures if he is unable to read and write.


The operative paras of the judgement

"21. To sum up, a deaf and dumb person is a competent witness.   If in the opinion of the Court, oath can be  administered to him/her, it   should be so done.  Such a witness,  if able to read and write, it is   desirable to record his statement giving him  questions in writing and  seeking answers in writing.  In case the witness is not able to read  and write, his statement can be recorded in sign language with the aid  of  interpreter,  if  found  necessary.   In  case  the  interpreter  is  provided, he should be a person of  the same surrounding but should  not have any interest in the case and he should be administered oath."

22.    In the instant case, there is sufficient material on record that Geeta (PW.16) was able to read and write and this fact stood proved in the trial court when she wrote the telephone number of her father. We fail to understand as to why her statement could not be recorded in writing, i.e., she could have been given the questions in writing and an opportunity to reply the same in writing.

23. Be that as it may, her statement had been recorded with the  help of her father as an interpreter, who for the reasons given by the  High Court, being an interested witness who had assisted during the  trial,  investigation and was  examined without administering oath,  made  the  evidence  unreliable.  In  such  a  fact-situation,  the  High  Court  has  rightly  given  the  benefit  of  doubt  and  acquitted  the  respondent.

24.     We are fully aware of our limitation to interfere with an order  against  acquittal.  In exceptional cases where there are compelling  circumstances  and  the  judgment  under  appeal  is  found  to  be perverse, the appellate court can interfere with the order of acquittal.  The  appellate  court  should  bear  in  mind  the  presumption  of  innocence of the accused and further that the trial Court’s acquittal
bolsters the presumption of his innocence. Interference in a routine  manner where the other view is possible should be avoided, unless there are good reasons for interference.

25.  If we examine the judgment of the High Court in light of the  aforesaid legal  proposition,  we  do not  find it  to be a  fit  case  to  interfere with the order of acquittal.  The appeal lacks merit and, is accordingly, dismissed."


The lacunae in the judgement

No two views are alike and the law presumes innocence unless convicted. However in the instant case my considered view is that the Hon'ble Bench could have also done justice then showing just ways on following three counts:

(a) The Bench presumed that the Deaf Witness Geeta was able to write the telephone number so she was educated enough and could give her evidence in writing. Merely being able to write a phone number doesn't mean the witness could answer in writing and could read and write. The bench may not have been exposed to the kind of education the deaf children get in the country. While they may be able to write or remember telephone number, only a small fragment can write coherent sentences .. such is the state of affairs of the deaf education in Delhi- the capital of the Nation.

(b) If the Judges felt that the evidence wasn't foolproof and was unreliable due to the chances of father acting as an interpreter and also claimed to be an interested party and if there were procedural errors in collecting the evidence by the prosecution, in my considered view,  this was the fit case to be remanded back to the trial court to recollect the evidence keeping the legal formalities of an independent interpreter or re-appreciating the signs recorded at the time of evidence and through in camera recording of the evidence. The sole witness is alive and the Hon'ble court has already declared that she is the star witness and should not be discredited only due to her disability. Today there are enough sign language interpreters who could have assisted the trial court. On the contrary, the Hon'ble court chose to give the benefit of the doubt to the convict who had himself accepted that he killed the victim and it stood corroborated with the entire evidence on record and recovery of the murder weapon at his instance.

(c) The language in the entire judgement refers to the witness as "deaf and dumb" which is not an acceptable noun to refer to a person with Hearing and Speech impairment. The apex court should atleast set precedent in the use of proper language in light of the The Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation)  Act 1995 as well as The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006 that Indian is a proud signatory to.


Read the coverage by the Indian Express  today here.

Read the Coverage by The Times of India here.

Regards,
Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate- Disability Rights
subhashcvashishth@gmail.com


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Madrash High Court questions Commissioner Disability on unfilled backlogs and shoddy implementation of PWD Act

Dear Colleagues,

I am very pleased to inform you that Hon'ble Justice S. Manikumar of  Madras High Court has taken the State Government and even the Commissioner Disabilities to task for not implementing reservations in employment and not clearing the backlog in employment of Persons with Disabilities. Hon'ble Justice has further sought for details of the action taken against institutions which had failed to employ physically challenged on one pretext or the other.

One wonderful intitiative on the part of the Hon'ble Justice! And mind you, almost all dailies today are singing about what Ms. Jaylalita's Government has done for the disabled, to name a few:

(a) 20 early intervention centres for Visually Impaired childrein in age group of 0-6 years in 20 districts at 2 crores rupees cost
(b) Age limit of 45 reduced to 18 years to avail pension.
(c) Free vocational training in all 32 districts benefiting 2400 disabled
(d) Cash awad to pursue high education to Hearing impaired students
(e) Monthly maintennace allowance from Rs. 500 to 1000 to severally disabled

 You will appreciate there is nothing about employment for the disabled and filling up the backlog vacancies reserved for them under the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. The Government seems only wanted to keep the disabled alive on some paltry sum of pensions an some vocational training. The education grants of no use if the Government is not serious in including them in the employment which is evident from the records.

I welcome this step and congratulate the residents with disabilities of Tamilnadu to have such a progressive Justice in the High Court of Madras.

Here is the media coverage from the Hindu:


Court takes on the role of messiah

MOHAMED IMRANULLAH S

Thousands of physically challenged people awaiting government jobs could heave a sigh of relief now as the Madras High Court has taken upon itself the task of making every State Government department, undertaking, university and other such organisations follow the statutory reservation of 3 per cent in letter and spirit.

Passing interim orders in a batch of writ petitions, Justice S. Manikumar has directed the Commissioner for Differently Abled to submit in court by June 9 an exhaustive list of details including the backlog vacancies that need to be filled up in every government institution ever since the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act came into force in February 1996.

The judge also wanted the Commissioner to explain why the reservations for the physically challenged had not been implemented uniformly across all government controlled institutions even after 16 years since the Central enactment was passed.

He further sought for details of the action taken against institutions which had failed to employ physically challenged on one pretext or the other.

Expressing deep concern over this attitude of the government officials, the judge said: “If some vacancies meant for Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or Most Backward Classes are left unfilled, many organisations, associations and even political parties would raise their voice, protest and agitate. But it is not so in the case of the differently abled. May be because, they do not command such a position in politics.”

He pointed out that as of March 31, 2011, a whopping number of 98,295 physically challenged people were in the ‘live register' of Employment Exchanges awaiting their chance for a government job. But unfortunately, they have been denied of their statutory right despite many court orders including the one passed by the First Bench of the High Court in a public interest litigation petition on February 17, 2011.

Mr. Justice Manikumar pointed out that the State Government had taken 10 years, since the legislation was enacted, even to begin identifying the posts meant for the physically challenged in Group A and B categories in the State Civil Services. The work began only in 2005 though it should have been kick started in 1996 itself and reviewed at periodic intervals not exceeding three years.

Thereafter, a series of meetings were held by the Union Ministry of Social Welfare and details were called from heads of various departments and boards, corporations and companies owned and controlled by the government. But many of them evaded from submitting the details.

It was also found that certain universities and educational institutions, in particular, had not followed the reservation policy.

“Right to live with dignity is a human right. Many of the disabled in India live in poverty and without employment, though educationally qualified. Delayed implementation of the statute is a deprivation of their statutory and Constitutional rights… Let us not forget that even a differently abled person would earnestly believe and expect that the words spoken and written be honoured,” the judge said.

He concluded by quoting Hellen Keller who said: “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.”

Though the present batch of writ petitions related to approval of three teachers appointed in C.S.I. High School for the Deaf at Kottaram in Kanyakumari district, the judge went beyond the scope of the case in order to ensure strict implementation of the 1996 Act.

Source: The Hindu

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Karnataka HC orders 3 pc quota in PG for disabled doctors in pre-clinical, para-clinical and clinical courses


Bangalore, May 2 2012, DHNS:


The High Court of Karnataka on Wednesday directed the State government to complete the formalities regarding the seat matrix for the Postgraduate Common Entrance Test within three days.

Justice Bhaktavatsala told the government to announce the seat matrix within three days and asked it to provide three per cent reservation to physically challenged doctors during counselling for allotment of seats to eligible candidates in various disciplines of the postgraduate medical courses of the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences, as per the guidelines issued by the Medical Council of India.

The court was hearing a petition by physically challenged doctors - Veeresh Hallur and Mahajid Pasha - demanding three per cent reservation in the allotment of seats.

The petitioners said that the government had come up with a separate seat matrix, reserving postgraduate medical seats for doctors with locomotor disability in the range of 50 per cent to 70 per cent. They said such a reservation in seat matrix was only to offer seats in least preferred courses. The petitioners sought directions from the court to the government to provide three per cent horizontal reservation to physically challenged doctors in the pre-clinical, para-clinical and clinical courses.

Source: Deccan Herald


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:












Wednesday, May 2, 2012

High Court rejects the contention that persons with 70% disability only eligible for reservation


The Hindu,  MADURAI, May 2, 2012

Rejects contention that those suffering from over 70 per cent of disability alone were eligible for reservation

The Madras High Court Bench here has disagreed with the contention of the Director of Teacher Education, Research and Training that only those suffering from more than 70 per cent of disability were eligible to claim three per cent reservation meant for the physically challenged in gaining admission into teacher training institutes.

Allowing a writ petition filed by P. Senthil Murugan, a candidate who suffered from orthopaedic disability assessed to be 40 per cent, Justice D. Hariparanthaman wondered how the Director could insist on 70 per cent disability when the officer was not able to substantiate his claim either through a statutory prescription or a government order passed to that effect.

The judge pointed out that Section 2 (t) of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, described a ‘person with disability' as the one who was suffering from not less than 40 per cent of any kind of disability (including blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, loco motor disability, mental retardation and mental illness) as certified by a medical authority.

Further Section 33 of the Act makes it mandatory for the government to reserve not less than three per cent of vacancies under the physically challenged quota. Of the three per cent, one must be reserved for those suffering from blindness or low vision, one for those suffering from hearing impairment, and the third for those suffering from loco motor disability or cerebral palsy.

Therefore, there was no justification in denying admission to the petitioner in the teacher training institute on the ground that he did not suffer 70 per cent disability, the judge said. He also rejected yet another contention raised by the Director that Mr. Senthil Murugan had secured only 44 per cent of marks in the qualifying examinations as against the minimum requirement of 45 per cent.

Mr. Justice Hariparanthaman pointed out that the government in May, 2010, had granted exemption to two physically challenged students who had secured only 41.33 per cent and 44.75 per cent marks in the qualifying examinations. A similar benefit could be given to the present petitioner too, he said and ordered the DTE to approve the petitioner's admission.

The petitioner had initially filed a writ petition in 2005 seeking relaxation of the minimum requirement of 45 per cent marks. That petition was disposed of with a direction to the government to consider his plea. Thereafter, he filed another writ in 2009 with a similar plea and the court passed a similar order once again along with a rider that his plea must be considered within four weeks.

After this, he gained admission in a private teacher training institute at Kalayarkoil in Sivaganga district. But the DTE refused to approve his admission and hence the present writ petition. He had also written the semester examinations on the basis of interim directions issued by the court from time to time in the present case.

Keywords: physically challenged student