“Bias cannot defeat rights of disabled employees”

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi: An employee who acquired physical disability during his service cannot be discriminated against as his rights are protected under the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act.

Giving this ruling, the Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of Bhagwan Dass, a line man in the Punjab State Electricity Board who was relieved from service after he lost his vision in the course of his employment. He challenged the termination of his service in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which, however, dismissed his writ petition. Allowing his appeal against this judgment, a Bench consisting of Justices G.P. Mathur and Aftab Alam said: “The denial of their [disabled] rights would not only be unjust and unfair to them and their families but would also create larger and graver problems for the society at large. What the law permits to them is no charity or largess but their right as equal citizens of the country.”

Writing the judgment, Mr. Justice Alam said: “This case highlights the highly insensitive and apathetic attitude harboured by some of us, living a normal healthy life, towards those unfortunate fellowmen who fall victim to some incapacitating disability.”

The Bench said: “We understand that the officers concerned were acting in what they believed to be the best interests of the board. Still under the old mindset, it would appear to them just not right that the board should spend good money on someone who was no longer of any use. But they were quite wrong, seen from any angle.”

The judges said: “From the narrow point of view, the officers were duty bound to follow the law and it was not open to them to allow their bias to defeat the lawful rights of the disabled employee. From the larger point of view, the officers failed to realise that the disabled too are equal citizens of the country and have as much share in its resources as has any other citizen.”

The Bench said the appellant, a class IV employee, was not aware of any protection the law afforded him and believed that blindness would cause him to lose his job. The enormous mental pressure he would have suffered was not difficult to imagine. In those circumstances it was the duty of superior officers to explain to him the correct legal position and his legal rights. Instead of doing so, they threw him out of service. The Bench directed the board to pay Dass all dues to him in six weeks.