The Madras High Court has observed that the Differently-Abled or Visually-Impaired Persons cannot be equated with Differently-Abled Persons, who are ineligible to get any employment on account of the sickness and infirmity suffered by them.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice Sunder Mohan disposed of a petition filed by ‘Nethrodaya,’ an organisation working for the welfare of Differently Abled Community, seeking direction to the Principal Secretary to the Government, Department of Social Welfare (third Respondent) to handover the administration of Differently Abled Pensions Scheme to the State of Tamil Nadu (first Respondent) and the State Commissioner for the Persons With Disability Office of the State Commissionerate for the Differently Disabled (second Respondents) and consequently, directing the Respondents to enhance the maintenance allowance from Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 per month to the visually challenged beneficiaries, on par with other disabled beneficiaries.
The petitioner contended that the second Respondent provides maintenance allowance of Rs 1500 to several Differently Abled Persons with severely affected locomotor, mentally retarded and suffering from leprosy and muscular dystrophy.
Their grievance is that the Visually Impaired Persons, who are also severely disabled, are not treated on par with the other severely disabled persons and only a sum of Rs 1000 is paid as monthly pension to the Visually Impaired Persons.
Further, the Differently Abled Persons, who suffer from visual impairment, are put to extreme hardship because the Scheme is administered by the Social Welfare Department. They are asked to obtain Certificates of Approval from Village Administrative Officers, Revenue Inspectors and Tahsildar to avail the benefits under this Scheme.
Whereas, the other Differently Abled Persons, whose maintenance allowance is handled by the Differently Abled Department, are not put to such hardship. Therefore, the Petitioner seeks a direction to the State to transfer the Monthly Pension Scheme to the Differently Abled Department and also to treat them on par with other Differently Abled Persons.
A.M.Venkatakrishnan, Counsel for the petitioner, submitted that the respondents have violated Article 14 of the Constitution, while making discrimination between the Differently Abled Persons, who are visually impaired and other Differently Abled Persons.
The visually impaired persons are equally incapacitated and suffered from disability. Most of the visually impaired persons are unskilled, illiterates and hence unemployed, who are incapable of earning a livelihood. Hence, they ought to be treated on par with other Differently Abled Persons, who are paid a maintenance allowance of Rs 1500 per month, which has now been increased to Rs 2000 per month.
The learned counsel would further submit that the cost of living for all the persons are one and the same and the discrimination in the quantum of allowance paid to the different categories of Disabled Persons is illogical and unfounded.
S. Silambannan, Additional Advocate General, submitted that the government has taken all steps to alleviate the suffering of all kinds of Differently Abled Persons. The Differently Abled Persons, who are now paid a maintenance amount of Rs 2000 are persons, who are by virtue of their disability, are incapable and ineligible for public employment or any other kind of employment.
They formed a separate class and they cannot be equated with the visually impaired Differently Abled Persons, who are eligible for public employment and other types of employment. The State has provided for several Schemes which attempt to enhance the living condition of all the Differently Abled Persons, including the visually impaired persons, which are enumerated in the Counter Affidavit filed by the third Respondent.
These Schemes are aimed at providing skills, education to the visually impaired Differently Abled Persons so as to bring them on par with normal individuals and provide employment and good standard of living.
While considering the Petition , the Bench observed that the Court cannot direct the Respondents that the Scheme has to be administered only by a particular Department. The grievance of the Petitioner is that the Social Welfare Department is not acting fairly. This is now sought to be addressed by the Government by designating Revenue Divisional Officers in all Districts to look into the grievances of the Differently Abled Persons, who are visually impaired.
In view of the undertaking given by the Additional Advocate General that the Government will designate Revenue Divisional Officers in all Districts to look into the individual grievances , the High Court directed that to the Respondents to strictly adhere to the undertaking given by them before the High Court and ensure that no hardship is caused to the Differently Abled Persons for getting the benefits under the Monthly Pension Scheme.
It is clarified by the High Court that the Differently Abled Persons shall not be put to sufferings merely because the Monthly Pension Scheme is administered by the Social Welfare Department. Therefore, the Respondents shall ensure that no hardship is caused to the Differently Abled Persons and unnecessary formalities are not insisted upon to claim the benefits under the Scheme.
The Court is conscious of the fact that the Differently Abled Persons, who are visually impaired are put to hardship and suffering and there cannot be any doubt on that aspect. At the same time, the Bench cannot ignore the basis on which the Respondents have extended the benefit of the maintenance allowance to specific categories of persons stated above. The basis is that by the very nature of their disability, they are either ineligible or incapable of either public employment or private employment.
It said, “It is not in dispute that the Government has schemes for enhancing the standard of living of the Differently Abled Persons, who are visually impaired. The Additional Counter of the first Respondent dated 10.03.2022 and the Counter Affidavit of third Respondent dated 07.06.2022 has listed out the various Schemes which are available for the benefit of the Differently Abled persons.
“One such scheme provides for unemployment allowance to Visually Disabled Persons. Those who are visually impaired, enrolled with the Directorate of Employment, have passed 10th standard and unemployed for more than one year, are paid allowance Rs 600 per month. Rs 750 per month is paid for a person, who has completed 12th standard. Rs 1000 is paid for Differently Abled person, who is a Graduate.
“It is also not in dispute that the Differently Abled Persons, who are visually impaired, are entitled to public employment and private employment as well. Therefore, the Differently Abled Visually Impaired Persons cannot be equated with Differently Abled Persons who are ineligible to get any employment on account of the sickness and infirmity suffered by them. The basis adopted by the Respondents to treat them differently cannot be faulted,” the Court observed.
The Bench directed that however, in view of the submission of the counsel for the Petitioner that certain persons who are visually impaired are also ineligible for employment on account of other sickness, infirmity and old age, the Respondents may consider the request of those persons to treat them on par with other Differently Abled Persons who are getting the monthly maintenance allowance, on merits and in accordance with law.
Therefore, the Court is of the view that it cannot direct the Respondents to treat all the Differently Abled Persons under Visually Impaired category on par with Differently Abled Persons who are incapable of any employment.