Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation
File Image

The Bombay High Court on Saturday asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) if it had made any arrangements for its physically challenged staff members to help them commute to work during the lockdown.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni asked the civic body how it expected these staff members to report to work in the absence of such travel arrangements.

The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by the National Association for the Blind over the BMC not paying its 268 visually-impaired civic employees their full salaries during the lockdown period.

As per the plea filed through advocate Uday Warunjikar, the BMC initially exempted its physically challenged staff members from having to report to work during the lockdown.

The plea said that on May 21, the civic body issued a circular informing such employees that they were entitled to a special leave without loss of pay.

However, on May 26, the civic body issued another circular saying that the above leave was not special, but a "permissible leave," which as per the civic rules, involved a loss of pay for the days that the employees failed to show up for work.

As per the BMC's May 26 circular, persons with disabilities will not be exempted from reporting to work. They can, however, seek permissible leave.

As per the plea, such permissible leave needs to be sanctioned by senior authorities, and for the days that such leave is not sanctioned, an employee has to undergo a loss of pay.

Warunjikar argued on Friday that the permissible leave rule was depriving the physically disabled, particularly the visually impaired, of their salaries as they were unable to commute to work.

"In the current scenario, people do not even shake hands with anyone. The visually impaired need help to cross a traffic junction, to take trains, to do anything else. No one is there to hold their hands or help them commute. How will they reach their place of work?" Warunjikar said.

He also said that there existed a central government resolution that said that any physically disabled government staffer must not be deprived of his or her pay on account of failure to report to work during the lockdown.

While the disabled employees were paid in full for the period between March 23 and May 31 this year, in the subsequent months, the civic body began to make deductions for the days they missed work, the petitioner said.

The BMC, however, claimed before the HC that it took "very good care" of its disabled staff.

It said the BMC had around 1,150 physically challenged people, including the 268 visually-impaired people, as its staff members and that it had started bus services for them.

These staffers were also permitted to use local train services in the city, the BMC said.

However, the BMC was not bound by the central government's circular, it said.

Irked over the reply, the high court asked the civic body that if the central government's resolutions did not bind the BMC then why did the latter implement some circulars, and not others.

"Why are you then not asking 100 per cent staff members to attend work? Why are you calling them in shifts and asking only for 75 per cent attendance? Why are you not allowing visitors to meet your officers inside their offices during the pandemic?" the bench asked.

"You can't say some resolutions of the central government apply to you while others do not," it said.

It then asked the civic body to place on an affidavit, the travel arrangements it had made for its disabled employees.

"We are so fortunate that we can see. That we have all limbs and we can move around as we wish to...It is so unfortunate that the corporation has taken this stand," the bench said.

The high court concluded all arguments and reserved its verdict on the plea on Friday.

(To download our E-paper please click here. The publishers permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Free Press Journal