|Case No.||W.P. No. 12593/2020||Date of Filing||24/10/2020||Status||Pending||Petitioners||KARNATAKA FEDERATION OF THE BLIND||Respondents||1. STATE GOVERNMENT OF KARNATAKA - SECRETARIAT; 2. DEPT OF WOMEN AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT AND EMPOWERMENT OF DIFFERENTLY ABLED AND SENIOR CITIZENS; 3. DEPT OF PERSONNEL ADMINISTRATIVE REFORMS ROOM; 4. STATE COMMISSIONER FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES|
The Petitioner, the Karnataka Federation of the Blind (KFB), an organization working for the rights of the visually impaired and other persons with disabilities (PWD), has filed this Public Interest Litigation in the Karnataka High Court. The Petitioner is challenging the validity of Circular bearing No. DPAR 123 DBM 2020 (Section) issued on 18.05.2020 which mandated 100% attendance of every Government Employee.
Considering the CoVID-19 Pandemic and nation-wide lockdown to impose social distancing norms, the Government of India had issued an Office Memorandum dated 27.03.2020 bearing No. 11013/9/2014-Estt. (A.III), which exempted employees with disabilities from duty. A subsequent Office Memorandum bearing No. 34-06/2020-DD-III was issued on 28.04.2020 which clarified that such employees are deemed to be on “special leave without loss of pay”. Despite these notifications in place, the State Government of Karnataka issued this Circular which stated that the CoVID-19 Lockdown was lifted by the Government of India on17-05-2020 and hence, every government employee was required to report to duty. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had issued Office Memorandum bearing number 34-06/2020-DD-III on 14.09.2020, which clarified that PWDs were exempted from duty.
PWDs were at higher risk of contracting CoVID-19 due to their dependence on a second person for physical assistance, which was difficult to get due to the general fear of contracting an infection. Limited no. of public transport services made movement difficult. The petitioner emphasized that Group D Employees with a disability, specifically sanitization workers in Hospitals were at a higher risk of contracting CoVID-19 infection.
The petitioner submitted that the present circular of the State Government was in direct contravention of the Office memorandums issued by the Central Government. The circular exposed PWD to a higher risk of contracting an infection. The petitioner illustrated Section 2(y), Section 3(5) and Section 20(2) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPWD) which placed a positive duty on government establishment to provide reasonable accommodation and barrier-free conducive work environment for PWDs. They argued that by mandating 100% attendance for PWDs, the government was denying reasonable accommodation to PWDs. They further cited Section 8 of the RPWD which guarantees equal protection for PWDs in times of disaster and argued that the circular did not ensure specific provisions for PWDs who are severely impacted by the Pandemic.
The Petitioner cited the case of Jeeja Ghosh v. UOI, (2016) 7 SCC 761, which stated that the rights ensured under the RPWD Act were are linked with human dignity ensured by Article 21 of the Constitution. Besides, the present Circular aggravated inequality for PWDs and based on these grounds the petitioner submitted that the Circular Violated Article 14 and 21 rights of PWDs.
The petitioner prayed for setting aside the state government circular bearing No. DPAR 123 DBM 2020 (Section) and direct the government to provide private transportation facility or reimburse for the cost of private transportation. They prayed for the Interim to stay the circular till the pendency of the present matter.
The Hon’ble Karnataka High Court heard this matter on 26.11.2020. They restricted themselves on issues faced by blind persons and acknowledged the specific difficulties faced by them. They acknowledged that CoVID-19 fears and social distancing norms makes it difficult for blind persons and other PWDs to get physical assistance from others. They agreed that the state government was bound to follow the Office Memorandums issued by the Central government. The High Court directed the State government to reconsider their Circular issued on 18-05-2020 with respect to Blind persons and other PWDs and get back to the court regarding the same in two weeks.
The next date of hearing on this matter is on 1-02-2021.
This post was authored by Almas Shaikh, Research Associate and Surya Kiran Singh, an Intern at CLPR.