A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in Aryan Raj v. Chandigarh Administration and Ors. (Civil Appeal No. 2718 of 2020) allowed the Petition filed by an intellectually challenged individual, against the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and held that "people suffering from disabilities are also socially backward, and are therefore, at the very least, entitled to the same benefits as given to the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes candidate." The Supreme Court thereby affirmed an earlier decision of the Delhi High Court in Anamol Bhandari (Minor) through his Father/Natural Guardian v Delhi Technical University 2012 (131) DRJ 583 (DB).
Appellant was intellectually challenged who applied for a Diploma Course in Fine Arts offered by the Respondent-College. The eligibility criteria to enroll for the said course was different for the physically/mentally challenged and SC/ST candidates since a further relaxation of 5% was granted to SC/ST candidates. Only four seats were sanctioned for the said course, one each in discipline of Applied Art, Painting, Graphics and Sculpture. Of these subjects, the intellectually/mentally challenged were allowed to take only Painting and Applied Art. The Appellant was declared failed in the Aptitude Test.
Grounds for Challenge before the Punjab & Haryana High Court
By way of Writ Petition, the Appellant challenged certain provisions of the prospectus issued by the Respondent-College on the grounds that:
- There must be a bifurcation of the total available seats between physically challenged students and mentally /intellectually challenged students;
- keeping in view the limitation of an intellectually/mentally challenged student he/she must be exempted from taking the Aptitude Test. If at all, the Aptitude Test be taken, minimum marks should be reduced to 35% as in the case of SC/ST.
- a Special Board be constituted, comprising experts in the field of intellectual disability to evolve a method for assessing fitness of an intellectually challenged student while applying for the Diploma in Fine Arts for Divyang ('DFAD') courses instead of provision of an Aptitude Test.
The Appellant relied on Section 32 (Reservation in higher Education) and 34 (Reservation) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act') along with the Delhi High Court judgment in Anamol Bhandhari (supra) to argue that a mentally challenged person is at par with the SC/ST person and thus the minimum of 35% marks as in the case of SC/ST should be the requirement under the Aptitude Test.
The Respondent challenged the maintainability of the writ petition. They contended that the prospectus was duly approved by the Punjab University. Thus, the eligibility criteria are duly considered by the experts in the field and in accordance with the statutory mandate.
Decision of the Punjab & Haryana High Court ('Impugned Judgment')
The Punjab & Haryana High Court held that:
- In the facts of the case, the bifurcation argument cannot be considered as there is only one seat in relation to the courses applicable for the intellectually/mentally challenged students. The court stated that it would be unfair for the physically challenged students if the lone seat is reserved for the intellectually challenged student. Hence, no preference could be granted to one class of disabled persons at the expense of the other disabled class.
- As far as the Aptitude Tests are concerned, the court stated that it is in no position to comment on the same as the criterion is fixed by the experts in the field. The benefit provided in Anamol Bhandhari (supra) was not extended to the Appellant.
- Having ruled the above in the facts of the case, the court opined that one cannot "loose sight of the fact that intellectually/mentally challenged persons have certain limitations, which are not there in physically challenged persons." The court instructed the subject experts to examine the feasibility of the creating a course for the specific needs of such persons with disabilities and to consider increasing the number of seats in the field of Painting and Applied Arts.
Appeal before the Supreme Court
Being aggrieved by the decision of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, the Appellant preferred an appeal before the Hon'ble Supreme Court on two issues: (i) bifurcation process under Section 34 of the Act; (ii) Exemption of Aptitude Test in case of the intellectually/mentally challenged persons. The Supreme Court finally decided the issue and :
- Affirmed the view of the High Court as far as the issue of bifurcation was concerned.
- On the Aptitude Test, followed the principle laid down in Anamol Bhandhari (supra), wherein the Delhi High Court held that "the provision giving only 5% concession in marks to PWD candidates as opposed to 10% relaxation provided to SC/ST candidates is discriminatory and PWD candidates are also entitled to same treatment. The mandate is, accordingly, issued direction the DTU to provide 10% relaxation." Therefore, the minimum marks required to be obtained by the persons with disabilities for qualifying the Aptitude Test was reduced to 35% as provided for the SC/ST following the ratio laid down by the Delhi High Court that persons with disabilities are entitled to the same benefits as SC/ST.
- All authorities were directed to comply with the directions of the Impugned Judgment wherein the Punjab & Haryana High Court instructed the subject experts to work out a course dealing with the specific needs of such persons with disabilities and increase the intake capacity in the field of Painting and Applied Arts.
Taking cognizance of the difficulties faced by the disabled community, the Supreme Court's verdict in this case has afforded a ray of hope and is a step forward in the right direction. The effective implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 in conjunction with the Supreme Court's ratio laid down in the instant case would ensure social and economic development of the specially challenged community.
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