New Delhi: Raising the issue of denial of Braille booklets to persons with disabilities in the UGC-NET 2018 examination amounting to “discrimination” as per a ruling of the Madras high court in the 2013 Miranda Tomkinson case which had directed providing a Braille questionnaire to visually impaired candidates to enable them to take part in the National Eligibility Test (NET), a petition filed by a disability rights activist has stated that while “on paper, the government promises to empower persons with disabilities with equal rights and affirmative action, but in reality, the government has time and again failed to act on these lofty ideals”.
The petition has been filed before the Court of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) by Dr. Satendra Singh, who is an associate professor at the University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital in Delhi, against the chairmen of University Grants Commission (UGC) and Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and calls for “immediate passage of interim order directing provision of test booklets in Braille in UGC-NET July 2018″.
It has been stated in the petition that the latest notification by CBSE for the UGC-NET for July 2018 states that point four on page eight under the category of ‘Provisions for persons with disability (including visually challenged candidates) having 40% or more disability’ clearly mentions in bold that “there is no provision of test booklets in Braille for visually impaired candidates”.
‘Repeat violation and contempt of court’
This, Singh said, amounts to “repeat violations as well as contempt of Court of CCPD as well as Madras high court” by both the CBSE and UGC and he has therefore sought a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh to be imposed on both the respondents.
The petition states that in order to provide “reasonable accommodation” to Persons with disabilities (PwDs), the new Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPwD Act) calls for “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, without imposing a disproportionate or undue burden in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise of rights equally with others; include provision of additional time, provision of scribes, etc”.
“This definition, modelled along the definition provided in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which India ratified, already has standards set for scribes,” he noted, adding that CCPD in its order of November 23, 2012, in the matter of Gopal Sisodia, Indian Association of the Blind Vs. State Bank of India & others and in another case of Score Foundation Vs. Department of Disability Affairs had directed the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to circulate guidelines for the purpose of conducting written examination for PwDs for compliance by all concerned.
‘Ministry guidelines had also supported Braille use’
Guidelines Singh said in compliance of the above order, the ministry had also laid down the ‘guidelines for conducting written examination for PwDs’ through an order issued on February 26, 2013, and a copy of this order was sent to the UGC chairman for compliance.
Further, an office memorandum issued by the Department of Disability Affairs had spelt out that “persons with disabilities should be given the option of choosing the mode for taking the examinations, i.e. in Braille, or on the computer or in large print or even by recording the answers as the examining bodies can easily make use of technology to convert question paper in large prints, e-text, or Braille and can also convert Braille text in English or regional languages”.
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Subsequently, the Madras high court had also directed UGC on the petition of a blind candidate with hearing impairment, Miranda Tomkinson, (WP 35157/2013) to provide a Braille questionnaire to visually impaired candidates to enable them to take part in the National Eligibility Test, that was conducted on December 29, 2013. “Justice S Vaidyanathan, holding that denying a questionnaire in Braille to Miranda would amount to discrimination, directed the UGC to furnish a question book in Braille not just to Miranda but to all such similarly placed candidates,” the petition states.
Noting that the Jawaharlal Nehru University Visually Challenged Students Forum had also written to the CBSE chairman on November 8, 2017, to “reintroduce the provisions of test booklets in Braille and large print”, Singh said the latest notification ignoring all these court decisions, orders and requests clearly indicates that while “on paper, the government promises to empower persons with disabilities with equal rights and affirmative action, but in reality, the government has time and again failed to act on these lofty ideals, resulting in candidates with disabilities confronting discrimination at every step of their educational journey and filing cases.”
Minister told about violation of all norms by UGC, CBSE
Marking a copy of his petition to Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Singh also reminded him that in the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation vs Union of India case, the Supreme Court had issued directions to the Central Government, state governments and union territories to implement the provisions of the Disability Act in letter and spirit.
Recalling how in a recent TV debate on Rajya Sabha TV, the minister had urged the petitioner to forward all cases of discrimination despite the implementation of new Disability Act to him, Singh wrote to Gehlot saying the recent actions of CBSE and UGC amounted to “blatant discrimination under new RPwD Act 2016, Court order of CCPD, violation of DEPwD notification as well as contempt of Madras High Court order” by both these institutions.
Several sections of the new Disabilities Act violated
In the case of the RPwD Act 2016, he said the violation was all the more glaring as not one but several of the norms laid down by it were being flouted.
He said the sections which are being violated are:
Section 3(3): No person with disability shall be discriminated on the ground of disability, unless it is shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Section 3(5): The appropriate government shall take necessary steps to ensure reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities.
Section 17. The appropriate government and the local authorities shall take the following measures for the purpose of section 16, namely:
(i) to make suitable modifications in the curriculum and examination system to meet the needs of students with disabilities such as extra time for completion of examination paper, facility of scribe or amanuensis, exemption from second and third language courses;
Section 20. (1) No government establishment shall discriminate against any person with disability in any matter relating to employment; and
Section 89. Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of this Act, or of any rule made thereunder shall for first contravention be punishable with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees and for any subsequent contravention with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to Rs 5 lakh.
As such, Singh has demanded that since there has been a violation of Act, CCPD Court orders, MSJE directions as well as Contempt of High Court the complaint may be treated as an exceptional case as mentioned under Rule 3(3) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules 2017 and disposed on priority.