The government has been admonished twice by the Supreme Court in less than six months over the manner in which it deals with differently abled people. It is telling that both times it was found prevaricating over the three per cent quota they are entitled to under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 — also called the Disability Act. In January this year, the court reprimanded the government for “sitting over” a 2012 Punjab and Haryana directive asking the Centre to make the quota applicable to promotions to all categories of public posts. On June 30, the apex court found the government vacillating again on the issue.
Though the Disability Act provided a quota to differently abled people in government posts, the government tried to circumvent its scope by restricting quota promotions to jobs in only categories C and D. It cited the Supreme Court judgement in the Indra Sawhney case in 1992 arguing that there should be no quota for promotions for posts in categories A and B. The court has now ruled that the Indra Sawhney verdict pertains to reservations for backward communities and does not impinge on quotas for the differently abled. That the judiciary felt compelled to step in to ensure the realisation of the Disabilities Act is symptomatic of the government’s attitude towards the rights of the differently abled. The Indian state has largely dealt with differently abled people through a model influenced by charitable and religious ideas, where they are seen as dependents and beneficiaries of the state’s generosity. The language of rights does not sit comfortably with such a discourse. The Disability Act, in fact, had more to do with international pressure than any positive intent on the part of the state. The act’s text is explicit that the legislation is a part of the country’s commitment to the Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities.
While the verdict should clear the cobwebs over job reservations for the differently abled, this will not be enough. Disability rights legislation loses its potency when it is not accompanied by measures that contribute towards the creation of a larger enabling environment. India remains amongst the most unfriendly places for people with disabilities. Most public places in the country do not cater to their needs and public transport remains a difficult proposition. While job quotas are significant, it’s necessary that institutions and public avenues accord them the sensitivity and dignity they deserve.