A marathon legal struggle for a level-playing field brought something to cheer about for at least 4 crore people with disabilities in India as the Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in favour of a minimum 3 percent reservation for them in all Central and state government jobs.
This, the court said, would "ensure proper implementation of the reservation policy for the disabled and to protect their right".
Regretting the denial of opportunities to differently-abled people in the country, a bench led by Chief Justice P Sathasivam quashed the Centre's 2005 office memorandum and the government's claim that the reservation policy not only had to be different for Group A, B C and D posts but the quota had to confine to "identified" posts.
The court ruled that the reservation had to be on the basis of total number of vacancies in the cadre strength and not just on posts so identified by authorities.
"For the persons with disabilities, the changing world offers more new opportunities owing to technological advancement, however, the actual limitation surfaces only when they are not provided with equal opportunities. Therefore, bringing them in the society based on their capabilities is the need of the hour," said the bench, which included Justices Ranjana P Desai and Ranjan Gogoi.
While ordering the issuance of an amended memorandum, the court directed the "appropriate government" to compute the number of vacancies available in all "establishments" and further identify posts for disabled persons within three months and implement the new policy.
Upholding the contentions of senior advocate S K Rungta, who appeared for the 'National Federation of the Blind,' the bench made it clear that the 3 per cent reservation has to be earmarked across Group A, B, C and D posts in entities established by or owned and controlled or aided by Central and state governments or by a local authority.
It will also apply to a government company as well as all its departments.
"Reservation of 3 per cent for differently-abled persons should have to be computed on the basis of total vacancies in the strength of a cadre and not just on the basis of the vacancies available in the identified posts...not less than 3 per cent of the vacancies for the persons or class of persons with disability, of which 1 per cent each shall be reserved for persons suffering from blindness or low vision, hearing impairment and locomotor disability or cerebral palsy," the court said.
It also threw out the government's argument that an overall 3 per cent reservation in the cadre strength in Group A and B could violate the rule of 50 per cent ceiling of reservation for SC, ST and OBC candidates, as laid down in the Mandal judgement. The court held there was no applicability of Mandal judgement in this case while criticising the government for its specific opposition to reservation for the disabled, particularly in Group A and B posts.
The court lamented that although the the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act was enacted way back in 1995, the disabled had failed to benefit from it.
"Employment is a key factor in the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities. It is an alarming reality that the disabled people are out of job not because their disability comes in the way of their functioning rather it is social and practical barriers that prevent them from joining the workforce. As a result, many disabled people live in poverty and in deplorable conditions. They are denied the right to make a useful contribution to their own lives and to the lives of their families and communities," the court said.
It reminded the Central and state governments of their obligation under the constitution and under various international treaties on human rights for protecting the rights of disabled persons.
# The 2001 census showed that 2.1 % of the population had different kinds of disabilities
# The 2011 census is yet to come out with statistics
# Estimates by UN bodies and the Planning Commission place it at about 10 %
# According to Javed Abidi, honorary director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People and the founder of the Disability Rights Group, the most conservative estimate will put it between 5% and 6 %