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Top court frowns on irrational comparison of disabilities

The Supreme Court has held that deaf and dumb employees are eligible to get transport allowance on a par with blinds and orthopaedically handicapped staff of central and state governments and other establishments, saying that human dignity of a deaf and dumb person is harmed when he is being marginalised, ignored or devalued on the ground that the disability that he suffers is less than a visually impaired person and violates Article 21 (protection of life and liberty) of the Constitution.

The SC was hearing a plea by two associations representing the deaf and dumb persons seeking direction to the central and state governments to grant transport allowance to its government employees suffering from hearing impairment in equal with that is being given to blinds and orthopedically handicapped government employees and also for further consequential reliefs.

Allowing the plea of the two associations, a bench comprising of Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice AK Sikri said, ‘The deaf and dumb persons have an inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected is the obligation on the State... violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Comparison of disabilities among ‘persons of disabilities’, without any rational basis, is clearly violative of Articles 14 of the Constitution of India. In our view, the recommendation made by the ministry of health and family welfare for extending the benefit of transport allowance to the government employees suffering from hearing impairment in equal with blinds and orthopaedically handicapped government staff is perfectly legal and is in consonance with Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution’.

The court observed that the pleas made by the deaf and dumb persons fell into deaf ears in all these years, while their claim has to be considered in a dispassionate manner with a human touch, especially in the wake of the disabilities Act and on the basis of the various international conventions, to which India is a party. It also noted that the travel undertaken by the deaf and hearing impaired employees is equally arduous and burdensome as compared to persons having other disabilities referred to in Section 2(i) of the disabilities Act.
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