A year after a HIV-positive bus-driver was sacked by the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation, the Bombay High Court has given him his job back. Reacting to the verdict, 43-year-old Ramesh Bhamre (name changed) said, “I am happy that I can get my job back now. I wish others don’t have to go through the trauma that I did to get my basic rights.”
The Hindu had reported the stigma faced by the driver in June 2012.
Ramesh Bhamre was sacked by the MSRTC in May 2012 on the grounds that he was “unfit to work”. Bhamre, who had been working as a driver since 1999, had told the MSRTC that owing to the treatment he was receiving, he was physically weak. He had requested “light work” rather than being asked to drive heavy vehicles. Stating that there was no legal provision for changing the job profile of HIV-positive employees, the transport authority had removed him from service. But, Bhamre decided to fight the stigma, accusing the MSRTC of discriminating against him because of he was HIV-positive.
Declaring that every citizen had the right to work and could not be discriminated against, a Bombay High Court Bench consisting of Justice Abhay Oak and Revati Mohite-Dhere stated that Bhamre should be reinstated within a week. The Bench also ruled that the State Transport Authority was liable to provide him compensation for the year he spent out of work.
As he stood in front of journalists on Thursday afternoon, Bhamre was initially at a loss for words. He discovered he was HIV-positive in 2008 and it had been, he said, one long struggle since. Dealing with the stigma had, he said, worn him out. His teenage son was forced to take up work in a factory to make ends meet, he said. “My wife and two sons struggled as I watched helplessly,” he said.
Human rights lawyer Asim Sarode, who represented Bhamre, said: “This case will act as a positive precedent for many others in the State, who face similar struggles.” Bhamre’s case was fought on the basic premise of the rights given by the Constitution, Mr. Sarode stated. “The constitution provides us with the right to work, to live and the right against discrimination on any grounds. It was this simple argument that the High Court accepted,” he said.
The MSRTC, which has denied having discriminated against Bhamre, has maintained that there was “a lack of policy” defining employment options for HIV-positive patients. “We were waiting for directives from the State government. [With the High Court having given its verdict], we can give him alternative responsibilities,” an MSRCTC spokesperson stated.
The High Court will decide on the amount of compensation to be provided to him at a hearing next week.