I have heard about horizontal reservation for persons with disabilities in public employment in India. How does this system work and are people with disabilities actually able to get jobs through reservation? How successful are people who get such jobs in their careers?
PD, West Bengal
According to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, there should be a four percent reservation for persons with benchmark disabilities in specified government jobs.
The Act says that both central and state governments must ensure that not less than four percent of the vacancies in each group of posts in any government establishment are filled up by persons with benchmark disabilities.
Of this four percent, one percent each should be reserved for persons with benchmark disabilities that are categorized as ‘blindness and low vision’, ‘deafness and hard of hearing’, and ‘locomotor disability including cerebral palsy, leprosy cured, dwarfism, acid attack victims and muscular dystrophy’.
Another one percent should be reserved for people with ‘autism, intellectual disability, specific learning disability and mental illness’, or those with ‘multiple disabilities’ from among all the aforementioned disabilities, including deaf-blindness.
The provision for promotion has also been mentioned in the Act for which the instruction must be issued by the government as deemed fit.
The reservation for persons with disabilities falls under horizontal reservation. Let us understand the meaning of horizontal and vertical reservations. Reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes is referred to as vertical reservation. It applies separately for each of the groups specified under the law.
Horizontal reservation refers to quotas for categories of beneficiaries such as women and persons with disabilities, cutting through the vertical categories rather than over and above them. This means that the horizontal quota is applied separately to each vertical category. Thus, if persons with disabilities have four percent horizontal quota, then four percent of the selected candidates will have to necessarily be persons with disabilities in each vertical category, that is, four percent of all selected Scheduled Caste candidates will have to be persons with disabilities, four percent of all selected general category candidates will have to be persons with disabilities, and so on.
This is as far as the policy and law are concerned. The reality, however, is a mixed bag. Though a horizontal roster for reservation should be prepared by all ministries and departments of the government, a majority of them do not do so.
Moreover, each ministry and department, their subordinate offices, central public sector enterprises, and cantonment boards are supposed to identify and assign the jobs to be performed by persons with disabilities. They are supposed to organize induction programmes for job-specific recruitment and pre-promotion training.
There are guidelines provided in the law to make changes and provide amenities to make the work environment accessible and barrier-free. Assistive devices or aids such as high tech or latest technology-led devices which include low vision aids, hearing aids with battery, special furniture, wheelchairs (motor-operated if required by the employee), software scanners, computer and other hardware as per the requirement of the person concerned should be provided to enhance their efficiency.
While reports state that most disabled persons are able to get jobs in the government sector through the reservation policy and there is strong evidence that they are capable of performing their roles successfully, their potential is often not utilized fully because of discrimination and neglect in the form of undersupply of suitable working aids.
An interaction with Subhadip (name changed), a young visually challenged college student threw light on the deeper roots of the problem. He shared that during the admission process itself, the rules of reservation are not followed. In West Bengal, the four percent reservation policy is not abided by the state government while conducting public entrance examinations for the West Bengal College Service Commission and West Bengal Public Service Commission. When Subhadip appeared for the examinations, he was not provided with a translator and other necessary aids which ultimately affected his performance.
In the context of recruitment, Subhadip mentioned that there is a post instituted by the central government called Gramin Dak Sevak (GDS). The required educational qualification for the post is completion of higher secondary. The good thing is that all the jobs in this post are reserved for persons with disabilities, but the salary is meagre. Then again, according to the government mandate, persons with a variety of disabilities can apply for the jobs. But in practice, the jobs are reserved only for low vision people. In such cases, those who are fully blind or have other disabilities do not qualify for the jobs. This is an indirect form of discrimination.
In West Bengal, five or six fully blind candidates were selected for the job recently. They worked for about six months, but then they were dismissed. A complaint letter was submitted to the higher authorities, which was ignored. A letter was again written to the Chief Disability Commissioner, Delhi. After the trial, an order was passed to return the jobs to the fully blind candidates, which is yet to be executed.
Another major concern lies in the case of candidates with dubious appearance. They do not seem to be disabled but manage to get fake certificates to apply for jobs under the reservation quota.
Horizontal reservation for persons with disabilities in the public sector has been a mixed bag. An overview shows that the procedure is extremely porous. Subhadip’s experience provides an insight into the problem and can act as a voice for others. It shows that the problem is deep-rooted and horizontal reservation is inadequate.
Persons with disabilities start facing stigma and biases from the school level itself and there is an urgent need to check this. But corruption has crept into the fabric of our society and the redressal will take time. The issuance of fake disability certificates is rampant and must be checked.
Subhadip suggested that the recruitment process should be transparent and there must be a medical board to cross-verify a candidate’s physical and mental health and their certificates before recruitment. He mentioned that the West Bengal Commission for Persons with Disabilities is in a dormant state. The socio-economic background and situation of persons with disabilities is not the same for everyone and not all have the means to advocate for their rights. Therefore, a proactive role of the government is the only way forward.
About the main illustration: Banner designed by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled for a demonstration organized in Delhi in 2019 to demand four percent reservation in employment