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Top court lends voice to hearing impaired

New Delhi, Jan. 1: The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and states to pay employees with hearing impairment the same monthly transport allowance they have been paying the visually and physically challenged, saying the law didn’t allow “discrimination” based on disabilities.

The court’s human touch came on a plea by the Deaf Employees Welfare Association, which said that except for Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, no other state was extending them the benefit despite repeated requests since 1997.

In their recent order, Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and A.K. Sikri said the association’s claim needed 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”.

In its complaint, the association had said the health and social justice ministries had recommended that the hearing impaired be given the transport allowance that visually and physically challenged government employees and those working in public sector units have been getting. But the finance ministry had shot down the proposal, the association said.

The finance ministry had in inter-departmental communications taken the stand that hearing impaired people did not deserve the allowance as their disability was different from that of the visually impaired or the physically challenged who faced difficulties when travelling by public transport.

The top court rejected the finance ministry’s argument. It said the Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, does not create any barrier or discrimination among persons with disabilities and any such discrimination was unconstitutional as it violated Articles 14 (equality) and 21 (liberty) of the Constitution.

The bench said it was the “obligation” of states to protect the “inherent dignity” of people with hearing impairment.

That “human dignity”, the court said, “is harmed when he is being marginalised, ignored or devalued on the ground that the disability that he suffers is less than (that of) a visually impaired person which, in our view, clearly violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India”.

“Comparison of disabilities… without any rational basis, is clearly violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” Justice Radhakrishnan, writing the judgment, said.

According to the court, there has been an unprecedented increase in travel time from home to office, which affects work as employees spend much of their energy in commuting.

In the case of persons with disabilities, the situation is more difficult, the bench said, directing the Centre and the states to pay the allowance to the hearing impaired, too.