The case of Vikash Kumar v Union Public Services Commission & Ors (2021) is an important landmark case in the area of disability rights in India. The Supreme Court of India in its judgement held that a person who is suffering from Writer’s Cramp or dysgraphia, which has not been certified as a benchmark for disability nor it has been identified as disability in the Act, is eligible to a scribe in the Civil Services Examination (CSE). This decision benefitted persons with disabilities, and it ensured right to participation and right to equal opportunity and participation in diverse spheres of life.
In this Vikash Kumar is the petitioner who is suffering from the Writer’s Cramp. Due to this he needed a scribe who could help him to write the Civil Services Examination (CSE). He appealed to the Union Public Services Commission for the same. But his request was not considered by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), because according to the Union Public Services Commission (UPSC) Writer’s Cramp was not considered as disability because it was not recognized as a benchmark disability under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act,2016 (RPWD Act).
Discontented by the denial, Vikash Kumar approached the High Court of Delhi, where he challenged the decision of Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Here, The Delhi High Court upheld the decision by stating that the Act does not have any provision for the Writer’s Cramp.
After this, Vikash Kumar approached to the Supreme Court, where he claimed his right to a scribe, which is a right under the principles of equality and reasonable accommodation enshrined in the Constitution of India.
- Scope of reasonable Accommodation: The lawsuit contested the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016’s restrictive interpretation of reasonable accommodations (RPWD Act). The petitioners contended that the varied requirements of people with disabilities were not sufficiently addressed by the RPWD Act because of its emphasis on benchmark disabilities.
- Recognition of Writer’s Cramp as a Disability: The lawsuit contested Writer’s Cramp (dysgraphia absence)’s from the RPWD Act’s list of impairments that are officially recognized. The petitioners claimed they were entitled to a reasonable accommodation since Writer’s Cramp severely hindered their ability to write.
- Denial of Scribe for Writer’s Cramp: The UPSC’s decision to refuse Vikash Kumar a scribe on the grounds that Writer’s Cramp is not a recognized handicap was the subject of the lawsuit. The petitioners argued that their right to equal opportunity and participation was infringed by this refusal.
- Burden of Proof: The UPSC’s requirement that people with disabilities prove they require a reasonable accommodation was contested in this instance. The petitioners contended that this transferred the burden of proof for participation from the institution to the person.
- Fear of Misuse and Exclusion: The issue dealt with the UPSC’s concern that allowing people with impairments other than those on the Benchmark may result in abuse. The petitioners maintained that this fear was unjustified and that a marginalized minority should not be denied a reasonable accommodation because of it.
- Inclusive Frameworks: The case made clear how important it is to create inclusive frameworks that let people with impairments reach their greatest potential. The petitioners promoted a more all-encompassing strategy for disability rights that took into account each person’s particular requirements.
- Impact on Future Cases: For instances regarding reasonable accommodations and the rights of people with disabilities in the future, the case has established a precedent. It has improved people’s ability to legally request the accommodations they need in a variety of situations.
The central question in the Vikash Kumar v. Union Public Services Commission & Ors case concerned whether someone with dysgraphia or writer’s cramp, which are neither recognized as benchmark disabilities nor recognized as disabilities under the Act, could be granted a scribe for the Indian Civil Services Examination (CSE). In the end, the Supreme Court of India decided that Vikash Kumar had a right to a scribe because of the values of equality and reasonable accommodations included in the Indian Constitution.
Vikash Kumar’s right to equal opportunity and participation under the Indian Constitution was infringed by the UPSC’s decision to refuse him a scribe. The petitioners said that the UPSC’s ruling disregarded the special requirements of people with Writer’s Cramp and was instead predicated on an arbitrary and limited interpretation of the RPWD Act.
Vikash Kumar was unfairly burdened by the UPSC’s ruling to prove that he needed a reasonable accommodation. The petitioners contended that Vikash Kumar should not have been prevented from taking part in the CSE by the UPSC’s arbitrary demand that he provides a medical certificate as proof of his handicap.
The UPSC’s baseless concern about scribe abuse shouldn’t be used as justification for refusing non-benchmark disabled people a fair accommodation. The petitioners said that the right of people with impairments to take part in the CSE should take precedence over the UPSC’s hypothetical worries over abuse.
The UPSC unnecessarily hindered the participation of people with impairments in the CSE by failing to offer inclusive frameworks for them. The petitioners said that it was challenging for those with impairments to gain equitable access to the CSE due to the UPSC’s unclear policies and processes for making reasonable accommodations.
The Court was also presented with the question of whether the provision of a writer or scribe falls under the purview of reasonable accommodations as specified in Section 2(y) of the 2016 Act, and therefore, if the respondents are required by law to furnish the Petitioner with a writer or scribe. The Delhi High Court’s contested ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court of India, which also granted the appeal. The Supreme Court held that a person with a disability cannot be refused scribe services because they do not meet the benchmark impairment. The court also declared that the RPWD Act, 2016 was included in order to level the playing field for all applicants in every industry, irrespective of their innate disability. The idea behind “Reasonable Accommodation” was to make up for the natural disadvantage of those who are unfortunate in order to equalize them with applicants who are not impaired. The two-judge court overturned the Surender Mohan case’s verdict and determined to give the disabled candidate a reasonable accommodation even though he did not meet the benchmark impairment.
The Supreme Court ruled that the way the RPWD Act 2016’s provisions were construed by DoPT and UPSC was fundamentally incorrect. Restricting the use of scribes to those with cognitive impairments would mean depriving a certain group of people of rights that are legally recognized. It would be against both the statute’s purpose and its plain language to do so. The Court concluded that equality encompassed a broad variety of affirmative rights, such as “reasonable accommodation,” in addition to the outlawing of discrimination. In this situation, the state has an obligation to offer people with disabilities with reasonable accommodations, such using a scribe, providing compensatory time, and so forth, in order to ensure substantive equality.
The bench stated the following to clarify his position on reasonable accommodations:
The idea of reasonable accommodation is central to this case. Personal dignity is the cornerstone of the RPWD Act of 2016. Understanding that each individual is valuable as an equal member of society is fundamental to its implementation. Essential components of a legal system that upholds, honours, and promotes individual autonomy include regard for the worth of human dignity and the creation of environments where each person may develop in accordance with their abilities. The RPWD Act, 2016 goes beyond simply being a non-discrimination charter in its attempt to portray these principles as the fundamental rights of the handicapped. It goes beyond putting limitations on prejudice towards people with disabilities. The State is required by law to take proactive steps to ensure that rights are realised. It does this by requiring the State to set up circumstances that allow people with disabilities to get past obstacles. It is legally enforceable to create an environment that allows handicapped people to pursue all of their rights, including those that fall under the umbrella of human liberty. The legislation’s adoption, with its focus on substantive equality, is a landmark development that gives the disabled a legal basis for equal opportunity.
DEFECTS OF LAW
There were various defects of law which were identified in this case. The reasonable accommodation concept was interpreted narrowly and restrictively in the UPSC’s ruling, which restricted its application to particular impairments and benchmark percentages. The varied demands of people with disabilities and their right to equitable participation were overlooked by this strategy. It was unfair and arbitrary of the UPSC to exclude Writer’s Cramp from the list of disabilities qualifying for a reasonable accommodation. The Court acknowledged that Vikash Kumar’s Writer’s Cramp severely hindered his writing skills, hence preventing him from taking part in the CSE. Vikash Kumar was placed under an excessive burden of evidence by the UPSC when they demanded that he provide a medical certificate as proof of his impairment. This strategy put the onus of proving the necessity for an accommodation on the individual with a handicap rather than the institution, which made participation needlessly difficult. People with disabilities were placed in an atmosphere of confusion and ambiguity as a result of the UPSC’s inability to adopt explicit policies and processes for making appropriate accommodations. Their ability to get equitable access to the CSE was impeded by the absence of a coherent structure.
This issue was determined by the Supreme Court’s learned judges using the theory of “reasonable accommodation.” The Supreme Court reasoned that each candidate’s impairment must be taken into consideration when providing a reasonable accommodation. A scribe is necessary for someone who is in a wheelchair, but not for someone who has a damaged finger. I think the well-informed judges on the bench rendered a fair decision that ensured the idea of equality is upheld in this nation. A society is assessed based on how it handles its marginalized minority, as stated in the aforementioned quotation, and India’s society can be ranked higher as a result. The government’s commitment to safeguard the country’s equitable feature is upheld by the judge’s decision to grant the appeal.
Principles of nondiscrimination and equality constitutes the fundamental idea behind the 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. Section 3 provides an explicit proclamation of this goal of nondiscrimination and equality for individuals with disabilities in the absence of a benchmark disability. All other articles of the act follow this basic premise in order to ensure the fundamental rights of individuals with disabilities.
MAHARASHTRA NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, AURANGABAD