Driver himself told MSRTC the truth about his medical condition

The first-ever case of a HIV-positive driver in the State transport service has put the Maharashtra government in a fix. The 41-year-old man, who was declared HIV-positive in 2008, was sacked by the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) last month as there is no clarity in the Transport Department norms on employability of HIV-positive patients.

While the driver was sacked on the grounds that he was declared “unfit to drive heavy vehicles” by the government-run Sassoon hospital in Pune, there is no provision under which he can be reinstated, acknowledge MSRTC officials.

The driver has requested that he be given less strenuous work, as he is the sole earning member in his family. “I am facing mental harassment inflicted by the authorities. How can I survive without a job? I myself revealed to my seniors that I am HIV-positive. I do not want to risk the passengers' lives. But I am ready to do any other work in the department,” he told The Hindu.

Last month, after a regional news channel reported the case, Health Minister Suersh Shetty and Transport Minister Gulabrao Deokar gave an assurance that he would be given “suitable work” in the department. On May 8, he was assigned a job as peon. However, a week later on May16, he received the termination letter. When contacted, both Mr. Shetty and Mr. Deokar were unavailable for comment. “Unfortunately we have no provision at present to accommodate people with HIV. We can give lighter work to those who have been disabled by an accident, but not for those who are HIV-positive,” an MSRTC spokesperson told The Hindu on Monday. “It is a policy matter. It is being looked into. The department will be sympathetic on the issue.”

Organisations working for the rights of HIV-positive people have said it is a shame that a state which runs awareness programmes is not equipped to face the situation within its own system.

“The government spends crores on educating people on HIV and AIDS, but it has failed to provide for HIV-positive people working in the government,” said Manoj Pardeshi, board member, Network of Maharashtra People Living with HIV. The network would send a legal notice to the MSRTC for discriminating against the driver. “The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has issued guidelines that there should not be any discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. But since it is a guideline, and not a law, the government is not following it,” an official with the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MSCAS) told The Hindu.

Human Rights lawyer Asim Sarode said that according to a Bombay High Court decision, no person could be discriminated against at the workplace on the basis of his/her being HIV-positive.

“The government is finding loopholes, as his [the driver's] termination letter does not state that he is being removed as he is HIV-positive. It merely states that he is unfit to work. His medical records clearly give the reason why he is unfit. But it is clear that by doing so, the government is creating spaces for discrimination.” he said.

Mr Sarode said he would challenge the MSRTC order in court.