The latest Supreme Court ruling on the rights of persons with disabilities has struck down an arbitrary proviso in current government policy that had become an impediment in the mandatory reservation of three per cent of jobs for this important section of the population. In disposing of an appeal from the Union of India, the court has pronounced that the quota should be computed uniformly across all grades of employment, thereby removing a discrepancy in the 2005 government order. That order restricted reservation in A and B category posts only to those that have already been identified as appropriate for the disabled. The question of identification of jobs has for some time remained a grey area: whether governments should first ascertain the type of work the disabled can take up and then enforce reservation. The controversy was settled earlier when the Court ruled that failure in relation to the former was not a justification for inaction with respect to the latter. Currently, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment undertakes the exercise of job identification every three years, without restricting the freedom of establishments to recruit disabled persons to work in areas they deem fit.

The other important question in the instant case was whether quotas should be computed against vacancies that arise from time to time, or with respect to the total strength of the cadre. Significantly, the Supreme Court has interpreted the relevant provision in the 1995 Persons with Disabilities Act as pertaining only to the filling up of vacancies, whereas the Delhi High Court had earlier opined that the quota should be computed for the total strength of the cadre. Going beyond the current ruling, it is essential that the legal and administrative approach to disability in India be brought in line with enlightened global norms. The principles of non-discrimination and equality of opportunities should be codified unambiguously and implemented as part of official policy, thereby setting an example for the private sector. The expansion of employment prospects for the disabled is closely linked to the spread of educational opportunities and the removal of physical and attitudinal barriers that prevent the disabled from realising their potential. The impediments to secure employment for the disabled are not vastly different from those that hamper the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. The one area that is perhaps the most critical to the advancement of the disabled is improvements in access to the built-environment, public transport and pedestrian pathways. The notorious inaction on the part of governments is due in no small measure to the absence of penal provisions for non-implementation of the 1995 law.

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