Well-known names from disability sector rejected; criteria changed a month before appointment

Just a month prior to the appointment of former Municipal Commissioner K. S. Mehra as Commissioner (Persons with Disabilities), the Delhi Government had amended the rules for appointing a bureaucrat to the post. While 12 applications were received, the panel headed by then State Chief Secretary had “unanimously recommended” the name of the lone bureaucrat on it.

The preference given to the bureaucrat has raised many eyebrows as among those who had applied for the post were well known names from the social and disability sector.

The “justification/reason” on the part of the Delhi Government was that “the post of Commissioner (Disabilities) is a quasi-judicial post. Mainly two jobs are done by the Commissioner – to hear grievances, which is a quasi-judicial work; and monitoring the work of the State Government, which is the statutory part. Both these jobs do not require high level specialised knowledge in disability”.

The details about the changes brought about to facilitate Mr. Mehra’s appointment have come through a Right to Information application filed by a non-government organisation, Pratidhi.

Raj Mangal Prasad of Pratidhi said: “While the RTI application was filed when the process of selection was on (and as we came to know that the exercise of amending rules to accommodate bureaucrats was on), the file was not shown till Mr. Mehra’s appointment was notified.”

It has been revealed that among the applicants to the post was a head in the Department of Psychology at a Rohtak college; a Joint Director (Technical) in the Department of Women and Child Development; an anganwadi worker, and audiologist and speech pathologist; a legal adviser, a senior registrar from a Mumbai university; a social worker, a counsellor cum special educator, a rehabilitation social worker and an associate professor of Delhi University.

In response to its query, the Delhi Government stated that the meeting of the Selection Committee for selection of Commissioner (Persons with Disabilities) was held under the chairmanship of the Delhi Chief Secretary on November 9, 2012.

As per the minutes of the meeting, the Selection Committee was appraised about eligibility of the candidates for selection to the post of Commissioner (Persons with Disabilities) based on the provision of Section 60 (1) of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act-1995 and Delhi Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Rules-2001 ready with the Amendment Rules-2011 and Amendment Rules-2012.

The Department of Social Welfare and Women and Child Development had invited applications for the post of Commissioner (Persons with Disabilities) in October 2012 and received 12 applications.

As per the minutes, “The Selection Committee scrutinised and considered the eligibility conditions required for the post, the qualification and experience of all applicants, and unanimously recommended the name” of retired Indian Administrative Service officer K. S. Mehra for the post.

Incidentally, it was less than a month before the appointment of Mr. Mehra that the rules were changed. On October 12, a notification was issued for the Department of Social Welfare in which the amendment of Rule 50 of the Act was made.

While earlier the rules were such that only those with experience in disability-related matters and social sector, or those who had worked in the field of empowerment of Persons with Disabilities could apply, the amendment made it easier for bureaucrats to get the job.

Following the amendment, as per Rule 62 it is only “essential” for the Commissioner to be “a graduate from a recognised university” and “desirable” for him or her to possess “a recognised masters degree in social work/sociology”.

As for the “experience”, the amended Rule also spelt out that the candidate to the post “should have at least 10 years of consolidated experience in one or more of some type of organisation at desired levels”.

Earlier, the rules were stringent. Rule 50 (B) demanded that the candidate for the post “should have special knowledge or practical experience in respect of matters related to rehabilitation of persons with disabilities”.

In fact in August 2011, former Commissioner (Disabilities) Pradeep Singh had written to the then Secretary (Social Welfare) Sanjiv Kumar stating that “the rules for appointment of Commissioner, as now framed, require 10 years of experience in disability related matters and/or social sector out of which at least 5 years of experience should be in the field of empowerment of Persons with Disabilities”.

Observing that “there may not even be a single officer currently serving in the Government of Delhi or Government of India with a minimum of five years experience in the field of empowerment of persons with disabilities”, Mr. Singh had pointed out that “thus the rules as now framed, would select only persons having worked/working in NGOs/disability organisations”.

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