Having served as a fireman for the last 25 years, Vishwajeet Nikam now finds himself battling his own force after losing his left leg in an accident in 2008. Citing provisions of the Persons with disabilities (Equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act, 1995 the additional divisional fire officer (ADFO) has moved the Bombay High Court against the city’s Chief Fire Officer (CFO) for allegedly denying him his promotion and handing him a pay-cut owing to his disability.
On October 6, 2008, while Nikam was on short leave, a tree in Mazgaon was uprooted. Nikam who ran towards it to pull away a lady standing under it, was caught under the massive tree. “The last branch of the tree fell on my leg which had to be amputated later,” said Nikam, who now uses a prosthetic limb to walk. After the accident, Nikam also underwent a major spinal cord surgery.
After months of recuperating, Nikam reported to the CFO on July 15, 2009 after which he was asked to obtain a fitness certificate. Nikam obtained a fitness certificate the next day and an order from the municipal commissioner asking him to resume work under the 24-hour duty system, Nikam claimed.
The petition filed through lawyers Jamshed Mistry and Anamika Malhotra stated, “The petitioner was allowed to resume duties on September 16, 2009 but he was not conferred upon the pay scale, facilities and other service benefits available under the 24-hours duty system. He was not allowed to sign the muster roll of officers and was further humiliated by withdrawing his cabin and forcing him to sit with general clerical staff.” Nikam claims that he is the senior-most officer after the present CFO but since he was denied promotion in 2009, his juniors have superseded him. Nikam has faulted the action of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and the CFO citing Section 47 of the PWD Act that states that no establishment can deny a promotion or reduce the pay scale of an employee on account of acquiring disability.
In reply to this petition, deputy CFO Shashikant Kale has submitted an affidavit to court stating, “The petitioner is inefficient and unfit to discharge or perform the higher duties of post of DFO which is a high risk and emergency duty. Admittedly as per the competent authority’s certificate the petitioner is 90 percent disabled. Considering the safety, security of the general public and the minimum standard requirement, petitioner is not eligible to be promoted on the said post.”
Kale added that in order to qualify for the post of a DFO, a candidate should have served as ADFO for three years and should have graduated in Chemistry. Another reason that Nikam did not qualify is that he had graduated in Microbiology.
Nikam, whose father V S Nikam served as the CFO between 1984-87, said that senior officers rarely attend emergency calls and mostly undertake administrative work which is fully capable of doing. Feeling let down, Nikam who suffered grievous injuries during rescue operations of the major fires at Tulsiani chambers in 1992 and Morarji Mills in 2005, said, “When a person is active, everyone takes care of him. Once they think he is useless, they just throw him out.”