The Bombay High Court recently directed the Maharashtra Government to conduct compulsory awareness and training sessions for its officials on the legal rights of differently-abled persons, in line with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

In this regard, the Court also asked the State to take the assistance of the Maharashtra Legal Services Authority and lawyers involved in PILs filed on the issue, including Senior Counsel Gayatri Singh.

A Division Bench of Justices SC Dharmadhikari and RI Chagla was hearing PILs filed by the All India Handicapped Development Foundation raising concerns over funds allocated and utilised for the benefit of the differently-abled persons since 2001. The plea also sought directions to the government to release data on how many posts in different departments were reserved for divyang persons (differently-abled persons) and how many of them have been filled.

The High Court observed,

“We see a general lack of sensitivity much less duty towards the disabled. This comes because there is no awareness of the fact that persons with disabilities have rights. These rights cannot be frustrated and defeated by a lacklustre attitude and refusal to implement the law, enacted by Parliament, in right earnest.”

The Bench took critical note that this was despite the fact the passage of twelve years since India signed the  United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, and three years since India introduced the 2016 Act. The Court went on to remark,

That Law has to be implemented sincerely and all efforts will have to be made for the effective implementation and enforcement thereof. That is possible only when officials of the State and that in-charge of municipal governance and civic affairs are enlightened enough and for that, the State would have to conduct and carry out training and awareness programmes.”

Appearing for the State, Advocate GW Mattos submitted that the Government is aware of the situation at the ground level and that it would do everything possible to fulfil the mandate of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016. The 2016 Act is successor legislation to The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. Nevertheless, the Bench noted,

 “We may have as many compliance affidavits as the Government or the Department concerned wish to file and place on record but we would, firstly, expect the Head of the State, particularly the highest executive functionary, namely, the Chief Secretary to ensure that there are training programmes and workshops organised throughout the State to make officials of the State aware of The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.”

In this backdrop, the Court directed that the State ensure that awareness and training programmes are organised by all major departments, coordinated by the Department of Social Justice. The awareness programmes have been directed to be organised throughout the State on a non-working day. Experts in the field, including legal professionals, ought to be invited to address government officers, the Bench further said.

Concluding the hearing, the Court said,

“The expectancy is that, tomorrow's Heads of Departments are made aware of this Legislation and particularly about the rights of persons with disabilities. It is possible that a disabled or differently-abled person may not be aware of his/her rights but he/she should not be deprived of the necessary assistance and support because of lack of sensitivity of his/her colleagues and the public at large. We feel that holding of programmes for the awareness of the officers of the State should be made compulsory.”

The Court has posted the matter for further hearing on December 10.

[Read Order dated November 4, 2019]

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