Yesterday I got a call from Lucknow regarding an article I had penned down for a Hindi newspaper.
The focus of the write-up was the plight of four candidates – all of them visually challenged – who had cleared the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) examinations way back in 2008, scored more marks than many ‘normal’ students and were still waiting for appointment letters. The Commission as everybody knows is India’s central agency authorised to conduct civil services and other important examinations.
The caller said that he was one among the four and shared with me the long struggle he along with others were engaged in to get their due. Apathy exhibited by people in the higher echelons of the Commission as far as visually challenged persons are concerned is really disturbing. And it was not for the first time that it had failed to give appointment letters to such candidates. Merely three years back Ravi Prakash Gupta had to approach the highest courts of the country namely the Supreme Court to get his appointment letter. Last February it was the Prime Minister’s Office which had to intervene so that seven candidates from similar category could join their duty.
A recap of the appointments done between the period 1996 to 2008 tells us that only 15 visually challenged candidates have been recommended by UPSC, while almost 6900 vacancies were filled during this period. Among 15, 12 candidates have been recommended or upgraded after court orders.
While officially nothing is said about the inordinate delay by the commission in this particular case, it is evident in their action that candidates from this category are unwelcome. In fact, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to restrict the entry of such candidates, at times even by, glossing over the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. e.g. A petition by the caller ( Mr Pankaj Srivastava) tells us how in the year 2008
‘[t]otal 891 candidates were declared succesful but only four candidates from visualy challenged category were recommended by the commission, whereas it should be 9 according to the PWD act 1995.’
Despite the fact that Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) gave a favourable decision, the Commission is still engaged in delaying tactics. It even refused to calculate the backlog according to the necessary provisions of the act since 1996 when the Tribunal specifically asked it to do so. As a report in a leading national daily tells us (Times of India, 16 th Sep 2013) “
Between the four of them, they have filed two applications and one contempt petition against their non-appointment in the Central Administrative Tribunal. The tribunal ruled in their favour each time. There is a High Court stay order on one CAT order of May 2012 directing the authorities to appoint the four candidates, which is to be heard on September 24.”
It was late 70 s when Frank Bowe, a disability rights activist from US had written a monograph ‘Handicapping America’ (1978) in which he tried to explain how the key issue in any debate around disability is the societal response to it. For Bowe, the main point was not the status of physical or mental impairment of a particular person, but the way society develops strategies to cope with it.
One does not know when the obdurate bureaucracy at the Commission would become more aware and sensitive to the fact that there is a sea change in the perception about disability now. If earlier dominant trend in the disability discourse revolved around adoption of ‘social welfare measures’ and the world was bit far away from taking it up as a ‘human rights issue’with the adoption of an international convention in 2006 welfare and charity have been replaced by new rights and freedoms and there is growing recognition that a change of attitude is vital if disabled people are to achieve equal status.
We are told that the commission annually submits a report of its work to the President of India which is also sent to each house of the Parliament for discussion. One just expects that honourable members of the parliament – who have enough lung power left to point out acts of omission and commission on part of the government or the treasury benches ever contemplating strategies to strike back, would at least find time to go through the reports and see for oneself the great hiatus which exists between rosy picture about disability welfare which is presented through the ‘official’ reports and the actual situation on the ground.
Questions posed by Mr Pankaj Srivastav at the end of the petition are worth contemplating :
Who will ensure the implementation of PWD act 1995 properly.
His last poser is while UPSC is an autonomous body, it has to ‘behave under legislature and judiciary of India’ and then how can it not abide by the provisios of PWD act.