SC directs Centre to frame 'proper guidelines' on granting scribe to disabled persons for exams

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday directed the Centre to frame "proper guidelines" to regulate and facilitate grant of a facility of a scribe to persons with disability in writing exams and highlighted "policy disconnect" between two ministries on the issue saying "left hand does not know what the right one is doing".

The apex court took note of the view of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) that a person with disabilities, other than benchmarked disabilities under the law, can also be provided with a scribe as the guidelines are not "exhaustive".

"This view of the nodal ministry has evidently not percolated to UPSC which, on the other hand, considers itself to be strictly bound, without deviation, from the rules specified by DoPT for the conduct of the CSE. UPSC has therefore specifically stated before this court that a candidate who does not fulfill the description of a person with benchmark disabilities would not be entitled to a scribe.

"These divergent views of two Central Ministries before the Court are symptomatic of a policy disconnect. We express our disquiet about the fact that, in a policy matter with profound consequences for India's disabled population, the left hand does not know what the right one is doing," said a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Indira Banerjee and Sanjiv Khanna. The top court issued a slew of disabled-friendly directions to MSJE on a plea of a UPSC's civil service aspirant, having neurological disorder ‘dysgraphia’ also known as a writer's cramp, who was denied facility of a scribe in exam on the ground that it 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%.

The bench allowed the appeal of MBBS graduate Vikas Kumar by setting aside the verdict of the Delhi High Court which had endorsed the views of the Central Administrative Tribunal denying him the scribe.

Writing the judgement, Justice Chandrachud held the facility of a scribe can be provided to persons with disabilities other than those having benchmark disabilities as given under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act.

"We also intend to issue a broader direction to the Union Government in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) to ensure the framing of proper guidelines which would regulate and facilitate the grant of a facility of a scribe to persons with disability within the meaning of Section 2(s) where the nature of the disability operates to impose a barrier to the candidate writing an examination," the 62-page verdict said.

It asked the ministry that while formulating procedures, it may lay down appropriate norms to ensure that the condition of the candidate is duly certified by such competent medical authority as may be prescribed so as to ensure that only genuine candidates in need of the facility are able to avail of it.

"This exercise shall be completed within a period of three months of the receipt of a certified copy of this judgment and a copy of the guidelines shall be transmitted to the Registrar (Judicial) of this Court," it said, adding the apex court registry shall place the guidelines, after getting them from the government, before for directions.

The top court also dealt with the "policy disconnect" in issues related to disabled persons and asked the government to have "consultation with persons with disabilities and their involvement in decision making about matters affecting their lives" saying it was necessary to bring about any meaningful change in the realization of their rights and would be in sync with the philosophy of "nothing about us without us".

In its judgement, the bench referred to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was brought by the then President George HW Bush and said that it reated an empowered class of beneficiaries known as the ADA generation.

Referring to the present case where the doctor was wrongly denied the scribe, it said there was need to make a "meaningful contribution in the project of creating the RPwD (Rights of Persons with Disabilities) generation in India." "A generation of disabled people in India which regards as its birthright access to the full panoply of constitutional entitlements, robust statutory rights geared to meet their unique needs and conducive societal conditions needed for them to flourish and to truly become co-equal participants in all facets of life," it said.

It said the Centre, while framing guidelines, should be "mindful" that it was the duty of the state to provide reasonable accommodation to such disabled persons when they approach the authorities to take part in the process.

"In India, as reflected by the policy disconnect in this case, there is often a lack of involvement of the disabled in such decision making processes, leading to their voice not being heard and their grievances remaining unaddressed. Taking into account our constitutional and international obligations, we direct the MSJE to frame the abovementioned guidelines in consultation with the public, specifically with persons with disabilities and organisations representing them," it said.

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Free Press Journal