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Government discriminates against the disabled in IAS recruitment

By Lalitha Sridhar

Despite qualifying for the Indian Administrative Services, disabled candidates are being refused the deserved government placements. A national campaign is addressing this discrimination

A nationwide campaign by disability activists seeks to highlight the "blatant discrimination by the department of personnel and training (DoPT), GOI" in employment of disabled candidates. Two candidates with disabilities who secured high rankings in the civil services examinations, and were entitled to entry into the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) were given entry only to the Indian Information Service (IIS) which is much lower in the hierarchy of officers' rankings. Another candidate who was entitled entry into the Indian Revenue Service last year was not allotted a category as there was apparently no vacancy in 'identified jobs' for persons with disabilities.

The Disability Act of 1995 provides for reservation in all categories of government jobs, but only 'identified jobs' for disabled people. This is a classification that takes into consideration the disability and, therefore, the ability of the person to do a particular job. For almost six years, no jobs were 'identified' and the intervening years of reservation were lost to people with disabilities. Says Javed Abidi, founder-director of the National Centre for Employment of People with Disabilities (NCPEDP): "Finally, when the Supreme Court issued directions, the ministry of social justice and empowerment scrambled to put together a rather shoddy job list. Some jobs got identified but most were left out. The disability sector has been demanding a revision of the job list for the last two years but no action has so far been taken. We need a clear-cut policy vis--vis recruitment of disabled people in the civil services."

Says Rajiv Rajan, co-ordinator of the disability legislation unit at Vidya Sagar (former Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu), himself disabled by cerebral palsy: "The civil service, which is a dream career for many young people in our country, has proved to be a nightmare for disabled people. In several instances, in spite of clearing the preliminaries, the main examinations and the interview rounds of the civil services exams entirely on merit, disabled people have been rejected or effectively demoted on grounds of their disability. They did not avail of any of the concessions or assistance available to them. The idea of any law or policy or reservation is to empower marginalised people, to push them forward. However, here the so-called 'reservation' is actually pushing people downwards! These people declared their disability only to be truthful! Now they are being discriminated against because some babus in the DoPT feel that people with disabilities cannot, rather should not, be allowed to become IAS officers."

M B Pranesh, principal secretary, labour and employment, Tamil Nadu, says: "The welfare of the disabled was earlier with the department of employment and training. In the '80s it was shifted to the department of social welfare and, subsequently, we have a department for rehabilitation which is headed by a special officer. We have 11.8 lakh disabled people (in Tamil Nadu) of whom the orthopaedically handicapped are 29% and the visually handicapped, 20%. Other handicaps constitute the rest. There will be a time-lag in meeting the requirement of 3% job reservation for disabled people in the government services here because this will apply only to new recruits, and there are certain areas in which the departments feel they cannot get work done unless the person is 100% fit."

He adds: "Like the disabled there are many other categories for whom reservations have to be made. All these reservations have been built up into a roster. Unless large numbers are recruited, the real benefit of this reservation does not accrue to that category."

Vijay Kumar, a Chennai-based advocate working in the disabilities sector, adds another perspective: "On analysing the law, in the legal aspect, the Disabilities Act has completely left out the private sector, except for the incentives. In the long run, an amendment should be made for bringing the private sector under the purview of the disabilities law."

"The notification for the civil service examination in May 2004 has appeared recently in the newspapers. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has, for the last few years, been providing facilities for disabled people to write their exams, by providing accessible centres and scribes," says Poonam Natarajan, founder-chairperson of Vidya Sagar. "The UPSC has also increased the number of exam centres from one to six for visually impaired candidates. However, these facilities have no meaning for bright, intelligent, disabled people if they are eventually going to be rejected from the civil services on account of their disability."

Javed Abidi explains: "If a visually impaired person wishes to write these exams, which are legendarily tough, she/he would not only have to put in the effort that is normally required to study for such a difficult exam, but would also have to put in the extra effort to travel to the centre and deal with her/his allotted writer. The issue we are raising here is that after managing all the hardships, if the person clears the exam she/he will not be allotted any of the civil services, as these have not been 'identified' for visually impaired persons. This is nothing but a practical joke being played on the disabled!"

Ironically, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) already employs officers with disabilities in senior positions, like secretary and joint secretary. These persons entered the services before the Disability Act was passed. Activists point out that the present defence secretary to the Government of India, listed as disabled from polio, joined the IAS in 1969 as a general (unreserved/open) candidate. In another instance, Sonal Mishra of the Gujarat cadre, who secured admission in the open category, was first rejected from all the services due to her abnormally low vision but was taken into the IAS after four months on the instructions of a special committee.

The National Disability Network, initiated by the NCPEDP, has petitioned deputy prime minister L K Advani to look into the matter urgently and work out a clear policy with regard to the issue.

Some cases of discrimination in the civil services:

  • Rigzin Sampheal, an orthopaedically disabled candidate, got a second rank in the scheduled tribes (ST) category and qualified in the Civil Services Examination (CSE) of 2002. He has been allotted the Indian Information Service instead of the Indian Administrative Service. According to a notification issued by the Government of India, the first six rankings in the ST category are reserved for the IAS. Sampheal, who is presently undergoing training for the IIS, is still waiting for a reason for being discriminated against.
  • Lokesh Kumar, also orthopaedically disabled, came ninth in the SC category and qualified for the CSE of 2002. According to a notification issued by the Government of India, the first 10 rankings in the SC category are reserved for the IAS. However, Kumar too is slated to be an officer of the IIS.
  • M Sathish, an orthopaedically disabled person who came 30th in the SC category and qualified in the CSE of 2002, has not been allocated any of the services so far, for want of vacancies in the ‘identified posts' for the physically disabled category. Candidates with lower ranks are presently undergoing training.
  • Ravi Kumar Arora, who has low vision, took the CSE of 2002. He got a ranking of 325. He was rejected on grounds of his ‘sub-standard vision'. When he appealed that his case be considered under the disabled category the DoPT claimed that “none of the vacancies notified was earmarked for visually impaired candidates”. Arora is keen to appear in the CSE of 2004 but wonders if he is “running for a target that exists nowhere”.
  • Ulaganathan, who is orthopaedically disabled, wrote the CSE in 2001. He got a ranking of 261 and was entitled for entry into the Indian Revenue Service. But he was allotted the IIS instead. Candidates with lower marks were allocated high-ranking services. Ulaganathan filed a case before the central administrative tribunal which ruled that this was a clear case of ‘hostile discrimination'. No positive action has yet been taken.

InfoChange News & Features, January 2004