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State of Tamil Nadu v. J. Vibin and Ors.

Shambhavi Shani and Anjali Baskar, Nyayshastram

Background

The Right of Persons with Disability Bill received the assent of then, President, on the 27th day of December in 2016 and was enforced on the 19th of April 2017. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (the Act) is in obedience to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by India in 2007. A person with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 has been replaced by the Act of 2016. In the above case, the first respondent is a student with 75% of visual impairment (as per the certificate issued to him by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu). He qualified NEET exam and was ranked 285 on All India basis in the category of physically disabled and was allotted the fourth appellant’s college through online counseling on 1/08/18. During the admission process, he was informed that he needed to produce a Disability Certificate from a Disability Assessment Board by 8/08/18. On the disability examination, it was found that he was 90% visually impaired. He was denied admission on the allotted seat citing the Medical Council of India norms which disqualified students with more than or equal to 40% visual impairment from getting admission in undergraduate MBBS courses. This disqualification of the first respondent was questioned in front of a single judge bench in writ court in which the court ruled affirmative and granted a decree in favor of the first respondent on 20/09/2018. Challenging the ruling of the single judge bench the appellants filed a writ and were heard by a division bench of Madras High Court (Madurai Bench).


Introduction

The fundamental issue addressed by the court is the legality, fairness, unlawfulness, and applicability of the 2019 Amendment of Medical Education Regulations in the student’s case. The judgment has been delivered strictly in line with the principles enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities. The judgment emphasizes non-deviation from the Act and upholds the “Legitimate Expectation” principle as restated thoroughly in Chanchal Goyal (Dr) v. State of Rajasthan.[1] The judgment delves with the conundrum regarding the applicability of the 2019 Amendment to Medical Education Regulations as suggested by the expert committee which denied admissions to disabled aspirants with visual impairment of or more than 40% and denied the admissions to the aspirants with impairment of less than 40% under PWD category. The judgment has interpreted the statute liberally and keeping the true intention and the very purpose of the legislation in mind is to provide the specially-abled with equal rights and opportunities. It emphasizes the gravity of the rights-based approach rather than the charity-based approach towards the specially-abled.


Analysis

The judgment broadly dealt with 2 issues:

1. The fairness of the 2019 Amendment to Regulations on Graduate Medical Education 1997

The court was correct in applying the Law to the very heart and spirit of it. The bench apparently emphasized the identification of the very bonafide intention behind the formation of the Act and giving a positive thrust in the implementation of the objective of the enactment. Allowing one to even sit on an exam makes him automatically eligible for future admissions after clearing the prerequisites. The Regulations on Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) 2019 given statutory effect on 4/02/19 amending the “Regulations on Graduate Medical Education 1997” disqualifies the medical aspirants with more than or equal to 40% of visual impairment to even be eligible for undergraduate medical courses and disqualifies those from availing the benefits of PWD quota with less than 40% of visual disability. The bench placed reliance on Section 32(1)[2] of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 which clearly provides for at least 5% reservation for PWD in every government or government-funded educational institute. Section 2(r)[3] of the Act establishes 40% disability as the benchmark disability to avail the benefits under the Act. Even if the disability is 90% as in the above case the aspirant is eligible for the benefits. The court was correct by holding that the Medical Education Regulation of 1997 which provides for 5% reservation in medical colleges cannot be overridden with the suitability of medical aspirants. The court has adequately applied and conformed to the applicable sections of the Act and is sound in its reasoning. The court is justified in placing reliance on the judgment of the Apex Court in Purswani Ashutosh (minor) through Dr. Kamlesh Virumal Purswani v. Union of India[4] which was of the same view. The committee which opined the non-eligibility of the aspirants with equal to or more than 40% of disability consisted of no doctor with disabilities and failed to consider the emotional impact of disability on a person. YG Parameshwara is considered the second blind doctor in the world after Dr. David Hartman of the USA. He went on to do his MD in Pharmacology and was appointed as faculty at the Bangalore Medical College. Both he and Dr. Suresh Advani, a hematologist and wheelchair user (80% disability), were awarded by the President of India. Similarly, there are multiple instances of doctors with disabilities with more than 80% locomotor disability working as faculty and residents in government institutions in the country. There are doctors with hearing impairment currently doing specialization in clinical branches, yet candidates with visual and hearing impairment were obliged to file cases in court this year.[5] The committee failed to acknowledge the prospects beyond practicing in the medical field. There are fields like radiography and medical academics which are not hindered by visual impairments. Not allowing an aspirant to even be eligible for medical education hampers the prospects on a single assumption that the aspirant might take up practicing after his education is completed. The competency of a disabled doctor cannot be assumed. The court even talks about the non-deviation provision in the Act which provides for no deviation. Hence, the opinions of a committee on the suitability of a student cannot override the provisions in the Law.


2. Applicability of the Amendment in the above student’s case

The second major issue dealt by the court was the applicability of the said amendment in the above case. The court was of the opinion that the Amendment clearly stated that it will be enforced from the date of its publication in the Official Gazette and thus it was given a statutory effect on 4/2/2019. Hence, it will be applied prospectively and not retrospectively. The bench relied on the judgment of the Apex Court in the case of MRF Ltd. V. CST[6]. In which the court expressly stated that the effect of an act or any notification is always prospective in nature unless otherwise stated in the very act or notification. Hence, the Amendment becomes inapplicable in the above case.


A minor issue that was left untouched by the court was the delay in the admission process by the respondents. They were asked to be present with the certificate on 8/08/2018 but the respondents didn’t comply with it. This undermines the administrative values of the institute. Strict compliance with the administrative rules regarding the admission process should have been observed.


Conclusion

The very first sentence of the book[7] “NO PITY” authored by Joseph P. Shapiro reads: “Non-disabled Americans do not understand disabled ones.” The only error in the aforesaid sentence is that it is attributed to Americans only whereas the harsh reality is that this statement has universal application. The sentence should have read:

Non-disabled people do not understand disabled ones.”

A committee consisting of perfectly abled people making regulations for specially-abled is ironic. Hence, the court has strictly complied with the provisions applicable and is in line with the reasoning of Apex Court in precedents.


The interpretation of the law was appropriate. The reasoning was logical and consistent with the previous decisions. The judgment will have a humongous effect on the applicability of the amendment. Though the court didn’t emphasize on the prospects and the possible solutions for the problems of the visually impaired to make them enable to receive the education as others. “At last the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” – Helen Keller.

[1] (2003) 3 SCC 485 [2] S. 32(1), Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016 (http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A2016-49_1.pdf) [3] Ibid, S. 2(r) [4] 2018 SCC Online SC 1717 [5]Satendra Singh, “Medical Council of India’s new guidelines on admission of persons with specified disabilities: Unfair, discriminatory and unlawful”, 4 Indian Journal on Medical Ethics (2018), available at https://ijme.in/articles/medical-council-of-indias-new-guidelines-on-admission-of-persons-with-specified-disabilities-unfair-discriminatory-and-unlawful/?galley=html [6] (2006) 8 SCC 702 [7] Joseph P. Shapiro, “No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement” (1993)

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