26 September 2023

INDIA: Outrage over panel’s disability ban

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An expert panel operating under India’s Ministry of Finance has recommended that people with certain disabilities, including muscular dystrophy, autism, learning disorders or intellectual disability and mental illnesses, be excluded from the Indian Civil Accounts Services (ICAS).

The recommendation has sparked outrage from groups supporting people with disabilities, with doctors and mental health experts claiming it promotes ‘ableism’ and is discriminatory against people with disabilities and mental illnesses.

When approached by journalists, Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, T.V. Somanathan said he was unaware of the recommendation.

“I haven’t had the chance to go through the circular you are referring to, I can only comment once I have a look at it,” Mr Somanathan said.

Attempts to reach the Chair of the expert panel also failed.

Investigations revealed the expert panel had been established “for periodic review of the identified posts for implementation of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) Act 2016”.

It apparently gave its list of recommendations in July last year.

Former Director of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, K.V.S. Rao, who retired in October, defended the ruling, saying it was necessary in some circumstances to disqualify candidates on medical grounds.

“Since it is a Class One post, this person will be in a leadership position and will have to be at the top of his abilities,” Mr Rao said.

“These parameters have been studied by the Department and they can defend them in the court if challenged.

“Take, for example, if a candidate with dyscalculia applied for the accounting services, they will not be able to do justice to their work,” he said.

However, Director of the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy in Pune, Soumitra Pathare attacked the exclusion, saying that using a catch-all phrase of ‘mental illness’ to disqualify candidates was irrelevant.

“The whole purpose of the Act is to assess candidates in a way to determine their competency to do the job irrespective of their disability,” Dr Pathare said.

“The criteria of selection should not be their mental illness but their competence,” he said.

“Here what they have done is assume that people with mental illness cannot do this job at all.

“If the criteria for a Government job are set in such a fashion, you can imagine the kind of precedent it sets for the private sector,” the Director said.

New Delhi, 12 January 2022

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