The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre, States and Union territories, and public sector undertakings to reserve three per cent of their jobs for the disabled under a law to ensure they get equal opportunity and protect their rights.

However, a Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjana Desai and Ranjan Gogoi made it clear that this quota had nothing to do with the 50 per cent ceiling; hence, the judgment in the Indra Sawhney (Mandal) case would not be applicable.

Writing the judgment, the Chief Justice said employment was a key factor in the empowerment of people with disabilities. “It is an alarming reality that the disabled people are out of job not because their disability comes in the way of their functioning but because social and practical barriers prevent them from joining the workforce.” So many disabled people lived in poverty, deprived of their right to contribute to their own lives and to those of their families and community.

The changing world offered persons with disabilities more new opportunities, thanks to technological advancement; however, the limitation surfaced only when they did not get equal opportunities.

“Therefore, bringing them into society, based on their capabilities, is the need of the hour,” the Bench said.

The Union of India, the State governments and the Union territories “have a categorical obligation” to protect the rights of the disabled under the Constitution and international treaties on human rights in general and those meant to protect such persons in particular. “Though the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act came into force way back in 1995, the disabled have failed to get the required benefit until today. Thus, … we are of the view that … reservation for persons with disabilities has to be computed in the case of Group A, B, C and D posts in an identical manner: three per cent on the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength and not on the total number of identified posts.”

The Bench said the Centre’s interpretation that the quota had to be computed only against the identified posts, if accepted, would render the scheme uncertain because “experience has shown that identification has never been uniform between the Centre and the States, and even among the departments of any government.”

The Bench directed the Centre to issue an order, consistent with the court’s ruling, within three months and directed the “appropriate government” to compute the number of vacancies available in all “establishments” and further identify the posts for the disabled within three months and implement the scheme without default.

The court asked the Centre to inform all departments, public sector undertakings and government companies that their failure to execute the scheme would be considered an act of non-obedience, and departmental proceedings would be instituted against the nodal officers responsible for the implementation.

On a petition filed by the National Federation of the Blind to seek implementation of the Act, the Delhi High Court issued a series of directives to the Centre, which went on appeal.

Before parting with the case, the Bench said: “We would like to place on record [our] appreciation for S.K Rungta, senior counsel [who is blind] for rendering commendable assistance to the court.”

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