Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Disability Act: SC asks AIIMS to see if Scribe can be given for UPSC exam

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The Supreme Court on Thursday, ordered the formation of a medical team of experts from All India Institute of Medical Sciences to look into a case where a special leave petition was filed before the Supreme Court against the order of the Central Administrative Tribunal denying the petitioner a scribe while appearing for the UPSC examination.

Justice Chandrachud, has asked the said team to determine the exact nature of the petitioner’s condition, to be able to determine if he suffers from a specified disability under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

Court suggested revisiting of guidelines to see if people who do not fall under the definition of benchmark disability under the act, can be given the benefit of a scribe. This was said despite the court noting that misuse of rules may occur if they are made flexible, to include accidental injuries and other disabilities not qualifying the present benchmark.

Facts: Vikash Kumar passed MBBS in the year 2016. He intended to pursue his career in Civil Services and stated that he is suffering from disability in the form of Dysgraphia/ Writer’s Cramp since the year 2015. He challenged a notification of UPSC contending that though the persons having such disability are entitled to be provided the help of a scribe, the Notification issued by the UPSC does not provide for the same. He asked the Central Administrative Tribunal, to direct the first respondent to amend the Notification, so a scribe is provided to candidates with a specific writing disability, such as the applicant.

CAT order: The counsel for the Respondents had contended before the CAT, that the applicant cannot claim the status of the disability, because Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital which is a designated authority to certify the disability refused to issue the certificate of disability to the applicant. The Central Administrative Tribunal held that the petitioner cannot claim the relief of issuance of a direction to the UPSC to amend their notification.

At the Supreme Court: A division bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Ajay Rastogi started hearing the matter on Wednesday. They stated that a reading of the Persons with Disability Act, 2016 — along with the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2018, regarding the conduct of written examination for persons with disabilities, which are followed by the UPSC while conducting the examinations — is important to understand the present case.

The guidelines clearly state that the facility of scribe should be allowed to any person with benchmark disability as defined under section 2(r) of the RPwD Act, 2016. Therefore Benchmark disability refers to having at least 40% disability of any type as recognised under the Act, and certified by a certifying authority.

The counsel for the petitioner contended before the court that the petitioner is not claiming any benefit of reservation under the disability category. Under section 20 of the Act which provides for equality of opportunity and no discrimination in employment based on disability, even disabilities which are not specified disabilities can also qualify for certain benefits. The act clearly states that no person with disability should be discriminated against and reasonable accommodation should be provided by the government.

It was argued that the UPSC exam is meant to test the petitioner’s intellectual eligibility and not his physical eligibility, therefore it would be a reasonable accommodation to provide the candidate with the benefit of a scribe. Even Institutions like ICAI( Institute of Chartered Accountants of India ) recognise this disability and also provide for writers.

Justice Chandrachud stated that there is no need to get into the question if the petitioner suffered from benchmark specified disability, since the only relief that the petitioner asked is the benefit of a scribe. People not under benchmark disability are still liable for other benefits. If the petitioner is deprived of appearing in an examination for a position in the government, it will also be covered by the principle of discrimination.

The Counsel for the Centre submitted that it is impossible for them to increase the threshold through which scribes are provided, else it would lead to innumerable applications for scribes. A minimum requirement of 40% disability is required, else the guidelines will be meaningless.

Justice Chandrachud stated that this case needs to be seen in a broader canvas. He questioned the counsel representing the Ministry of Social justice and Empowerment, as to what would happen in cases of accidents, where the person suffers from a disability, is not governed by the Act but still needs a scribe. He suggested that the Ministry needs to revisit the guidelines and come out with a better policy.

The Court on Thursday, while taking up the matter again, stated that the Government of India while forming the guidelines, did not bear in mind the students with disabilities which don’t fall under the category of benchmark disability but need a scribe. Chandrachud, J., stated that the Court understands the possibility of misuse, and doesn’t wish to open pandora’s box, but provisions need to exist for these situations.

— Srishti Ojha

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