Want to 'get back to action' but will go by medical advice, says SC on physical hearing

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday said the 2016 law on rights of persons with disabilities is the “statutory manifestation of a constitutional commitment” and it assures them that “they are assets, not liabilities and that they make us stronger, not weaker”.

The top court’s observations came in a significant verdict in which it directed the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) to frame “proper guidelines” to regulate and facilitate grant of a facility of a scribe to persons with disability in writing exams.

A bench headed by Justice D Y Chnadrachud noted the fact that the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD ) Act, 2016 came into being to India’s obligation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which the nation ratified in 2007.

“It (law) gives a powerful voice to the disabled people who, by dint of the way their impairment interacts with society, hitherto felt muted and silenced. The Act tells them that they belong, that they matter, that they are assets, not liabilities and that they make us stronger, not weaker,” said the bench which also comprised justices Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna.

Justice Chandrachud, writing the judgement or the bench said, the fundamental rights, enshrined under the Constitution, does not explicitly include persons with disabilities within its protective fold.

“However, much like their able-bodied counterparts, the golden triangle of Articles 14 (right to equality), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (right to life) applies with full force and vigour to the disabled.

“The RPwD Act 2016 seeks to operationalize and give concrete shape to the promise of full and equal citizenship held out by the Constitution to the disabled and to execute its ethos of inclusion and acceptance,” said the 62-page long judgement.

When the government in recognition of its affirmative duties and obligations under the RPwD Act 2016 makes provisions for facilitating a scribe during the course of the Civil Services Examination, it cannot be construed to confer a largesse, it held.

“Nor does it by allowing a scribe confer a privilege on a candidate. The provision for the facility of a scribe is in pursuance of the statutory mandate to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to live a life of equality and dignity based on respect in society for their bodily and mental integrity,” it held.

The top court rapped the UPSC and DoPT for their stand that the facility of scribe can be provided only to persons with benchmark disabilities such as blind candidates and those with locomotor disability or cerebral palsy with an impairment of at least 40 per cent.

“There is a fundamental fallacy on the part of the UPSC/DoPT in proceeding on the basis that the facility of a scribe shall be made available only to persons with benchmark disabilities. This is occasioned by the failure of the MSJE to clarify their guidelines. The whole concept of a benchmark disability within the meaning of Section 2(r) is primarily in the context of special provisions including reservation that are embodied in Chapter VI of the RPwD Act 2016…,” it said.

Holding that the benchmark disability is not a precondition to obtaining a scribe, it said, “Conflating the rights and entitlements which inhere in persons with disabilities with the notion of benchmark disabilities does dis-service to the salutary purpose underlying the enactment of the RPwD Act 2016.

“Worse still, to deny the rights and entitlements recognized for persons with disabilities on the ground that they do not fulfill a benchmark disability would be plainly ultra vires the RPwD Act 2016.”