“Andha kanoon” or law is blind is what we heard every time there was a discussion on law and who can forget the blindfold of justice, the black piece of cloth which is tied around the Greek statue holding the scales of justice. It makes us wonder if law is blind and impartial then why can’t a custodian of law-a Judge, be blind?
In “V Surendra Mohan vs State of Tamil Nadu”, the apex court ruled that a visual impairment or a hearing disability above 50% rendered an otherwise competent candidate unworthy of being a judge. When article 14 guarantees us the fundamental right to equality and 3-4% seats are to be reserved for visually impaired in identified posts as per the “Right To People with Disability Act, 2016”, then how could Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission through its advertisement for inviting candidates for post of judges arbitrarily limit the level of visual/hearing impairment between 40%-50%?
The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 nowhere defines partial disability. Since anyone having disability below 40% does not come under reserved category, anyone above 40%-90% is understood to be partially impaired and should qualify for all the eligible positions notified by the government under the partial impairment category. The Tamil Nadu Government in this case sought approval of the TN High Court to limit the % of disability between 40% and 50%. Just because the High Court had no objections, the same was taken as approved and notified through advertisement. There was no reasoning for setting the upper limit as 50% which is a limiting criteria for visually impaired and people with other disabilities and obstructs their right to equal opportunity enshrined in the constitution.
This decision of the Hon’ble Tamil Nadu High Court was upheld by the Hon’ble Supreme Court recently and has reignited a perception already prevalent amongst most in the society regarding the natural ability of a visually impaired. Question which arises is what limits a visually impaired from being a judge when technology has been the biggest enabler for them to operate and contribute in a competitive work environment? It is a proven fact that when one of your senses does not perform, your other senses overcome the shortfall. A partially visually impaired mostly have stronger oratory and auditory power and the only thing they would lack is the fact that they cannot read/write at the same pace as a person with 100% vision. With readers/researchers attached to them, they can hear all documents from them and get required information through researchers, use their analyzing faculties, apply the Rule of Law and pass judgments like any other judge. Even a judge who is transferred to a state where the language is not known to him needs the same support to perform his duties as a visually impaired. For a judge who doesn’t know Tamil and is transferred to Tamil Nadu High Court, any document in the local language is read by him as good as a visually impaired. Then why would we find putting a partially visually impaired in the position of a judge in India so difficult? when we can provide such support to judges with weak eyes or those not knowing local language, then why not the blind?
The Hon’ble Supreme Court is the custodian of our ‘Right to Equality and Equal Opportunity’ and by passing such a judgement, the court has not just fractured this right but also further limited the number of visually impaired who could apply for positions they qualify for, like any of us. The court has put away the cloak of impartial jurisprudence and worn the coat of societal perception with respect to Visually Impaired. With examples across the globe of Visually impaired having served in the position of Judges, how can it be any different in India?
The work of a judge being carried out by a partially visually impaired cannot be equated to a physically impossible work like driving. The only worry is that by today putting a upper limit on the level of disability for qualifying as a judge in the courts, the same judgement might be used as a precedent in other types of jobs (teacher, banker etc.). the right to equal opportunity will be severely hurt if that is the case and already limited opportunities for visually impaired will further come down.