The case of the 1977-batch Indian Administrative Service officer, whose compulsory retirement on grounds of disability the Supreme Court has overturned, sets a strong precedent on the codification of protections against contingencies that arise during service. A two-judge bench upheld Anil Kumar Mahajan’s appeal against an earlier decision that sought to curtail his tenure by five years. Interpreting the 1995 law on disabilities, the bench ruled that those who acquire an impairment while in service had to be accommodated in a position appropriate to their current condition. Where such adjustment was not available, the government was obliged to retain them in a supernumerary status, pending the identification of one, until the age of superannuation.
The message emanating from the judgment is unambiguous, even if only a fraction of the disabled, estimated at nearly 10 per cent of India’s population, is in formal employment. It is relevant no less to the large numbers rendered severely impaired for life on account of the notoriously high rates of road accidents, not to mention industrial mishaps. The verdict also drives home the necessity, both within the administration and beyond, to recognise disability as a dimension of social diversity. To the extent that this is a relatively new reality, reflected in the workplace and several walks of life, public and private institutions would have to become responsive. It is hard to conceive of a more effective advocacy on disability than policies of accommodation that can potentially counter prevailing prejudice and stereotypes.
As regards recruitments under the Union Public Service Commission, a number of persons with different disabilities have begun to join the ranks in recent times. In fact, the question of identification of suitable placements across different services has come into the spotlight, illustrating the need to fashion a comprehensive approach on the absorption of new appointees. The landmark verdict, if anything, underscores yet again the urgent need for Parliament to enact fresh legislation in this area. This is imperative following India’s ratification, way back in 2007, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is the way forward on extending legal protection for categories of impairments that are not covered under the current law and give fresh impetus to realise the goals of inclusive education. The newly constituted department of disability affairs in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment should strive towards bringing the law-making process to fruition at the earliest. For, every single day lost to procedural delays affects the life prospects of millions.