Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reflections on SC judgement on Efficiency a ground for denying promotion to PWD

Dear Friends,

After my last post on the subject, I studied the detailed judgement of the Hon'ble Supreme Court titled Union of India Versus Devendra Kumar Pant & Ors, Civil Appeal No. 4668 of 2007 and following are few reflections on the same:

  • The whole debate around Medical standards for Persons with disabilities is actually confusing to many disabled people including those with visual impairments that this judgement might affect them adversely. There is a general fear that on one hand the employers might use the clause of efficiency & medical standards against the persons with disabilities to deny them promotional avenues and on the other hand, people without a certain nature and extent of disabilities (read -disabilities not covered under PWD Act) might usurp the rights and facilities of those who are presently allowed the benefits under the Persons with Disabilities Act.
  • In this case, the Hon'ble Court failed to take in to cognizance that for a person with any disability to be eligible to a post for recruitment & reservation, there exist a List of Identified Jobs which can be held and performed by that category of persons with disability. The separate question of medical standards and disability will not arise here as the jobs have been identified taking in to account all such factors.
  • Although the identification list of no consequence in the present case as it relates to the right to promotion which can not be denied to the person on the grounds of Disability acquired. If the person is unable to do the job, reasonable accommodation must be tried and use of modern technology should be promoted to help him settle in new role. If even that fails, he can be shifted on equivalent posts within the same department.
  • The court has coined a new interpretation of Efficiency as a necessary condition besides minimum medical standards under Section 47 which is not in sync with the spirit of PWD Act. The purpose of Section 47 is not to recruit a person afresh but rehabilitating an employee who has acquired disability during his service, hence including clauses of medical standards and efficiency seem to be misplaced. Also Efficiency is subjective and when attached to disabilities can be misinterpreted and misused by bureaucrats, employers etc in their own way allowing grounds for discrimination rather than reducing and minimizing them.
  • Incidentally, none of the posts in question i.e. Junior Research Assistant, Senior RA and Chief RA, are identified for persons with Blindness or Low vision, therefore, it hardly affects the rights of visually challenged in the Country.
  • Though the respondent is not a person with disability in terms of the Medicalised definitions given in the Persons with Disabilities Act as neither the Colour blindness is defined as a type of disability nor the disability of the respondent has been assessed to be above 40%. However, Section 47 is a social security and human rights provision to ensure continuity of support from the Government in case an employee of the Government acquires disability during his service.
  • Thus, to me here, the degree and extent of disability is of no relevance for the purposes of Section 47 (1) as the said person should be allowed to save his job under this provision, even if his disability is less than 40% for the simple fact that he is not claiming the 3% reservations available for the three categories of disabilities.
  • If degree and percentage of disability is made relevant here to attract this section, then any employee acquiring less than 40% disability would be left without any rights and social security that this Section intends to guarantee.
  • However, in case his disability is more than 40 %, he would be surely authorized to claim other benefits available to Persons with disabilities under the PWD Act besides saving his job under Section 47 (1).
  • Therefore, if the Hon’ble Court had shown a little bit of judicial craftsmanship, it may have been possible to expand the definition of disability to include within its ambit the lack of or reduction in colour perception. On earlier occasions, Delhi High Court had considered a person with heart ailment as person with disability to save his job under section 47. This would have given a wider and appropriate interpretation to the Section 47.
  • However, in the instant case, the issue was of denial of promotion and not saving the job.
  • As claimed by the Respondent, the job of the all the three levels is same and earlier the post of Junior Research Assistant, Senior Research Assistant were suitable for Medical Category B3 and B2 respectively while the Chief Research Assistant was required to have B1 medical category (that requires person to be free from colourblindness). The same stood revised in 1990 as B1 for all three successive posts.
  • However, the old employees were allowed to continue on their existing posts even if they were below B-1 (post revision category). The respondent is Medical Category B-2 currently and holding the post of Senior Research Assistant for which currently B-1 is the requirement as per revised standards of 1990. If the job is almost similar, then the rule of medical standards seems highly misplaced. Also if the old employees with lower medical categories can continue to hold and work on the present posts (now requiring B-1) without being a risk to safety, security and efficiency, then the same employees could also be promoted using same logic.
  • However, looking at the judgement from a cross disability perspective, and from the perspective of UNCRPD, the Hon'ble Court has once again perpetrated the age old view of looking at impairments from the medical point of view i.e. the individual's condition and impairment in the body is seen as the problem and not the inaccessible social structures around. In fact the whole human rights agenda has been thrown to the back burners.
  • The UNCRPD doesn’t make mention of degree and extent of disability in terms of percentage and types the way PWD Act does hence perpetrates the medical model of disability. The domestic Act is desperately in need of amendments to be in sync with UNCRPD.
  • Also the employer, i.e. RDSO did not explore any possibilities of reasonable accommodation which could make possible conditions of work of higher post which amounts to discriminatory exclusion. Whether Chief Research Assistant work during night and whether the job could be done easily with special equipments/devices was never explored in this case. The whole attempt was to relegate him to be medically unfit for the promotion by blindly following the revised medical standards. Colour Blindness is not a disease but a condition, thus discrimination on this ground is surely against the tenets of UNCRPD, if not of PWD Act which is constrained by medicalised definitions of various disabilities.



The judgement has left a bitter taste in the mouth of activists in the field and the disappointment is because of the inability of the Apex Court to arrive at a reasonable conclusion after considering all issues involved in the case and the UNCRPD & human rights philosophy.

regards

SC Vashishth, Advocate



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