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Expert panel says civil service ICAS can exclude people with some disabilities, activists aghast

Controller General of Accounts-appointed panel says those with muscular dystrophy, autism, learning disorders or intellectual disability & mental illnesses be excluded from intake.

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New Delhi: A Controller General of Accounts-constituted expert panel has recommended that persons with certain disabilities — muscular dystrophy, autism, learning disorders or intellectual disability and mental illnesses — be “excluded from the intake” of Indian Civil Accounts Services (ICAS), ThePrint has learnt.

The ICAS is ‘Group A’ service functioning under the Department of Expenditure in the Union Ministry of Finance.

Charu Gupta, Assistant Controller General of Accounts (CAG) in the finance ministry, shared the panel’s recommendations with the Department of Personnel and Training on 24 December for its perusal. ThePrint has accessed the document.

Doctors and mental health experts have hit out at the exclusion of such candidates and claimed that it only promotes ‘ableism’ and is discriminatory against people with disabilities and mental illnesses.

Finance Secretary T.V. Somanathan didn’t comment on the issue, stating that he was unaware of the circular. “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,” he told ThePrint.

ThePrint also reached Charu Gupta through phonecalls, but there was no response until the time of publication of this report.

The recommendations

The panel, called the ‘Expert Committee for periodic review of the identified posts for implementation of Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) Act 2016, by Cadre Controlling Authorities’, met on 2 July and gave its list of recommendations. 

The panel “reviewed the category, functional classification and physical requirement etc” for ICAS and gave its recommendations in the minutes of the meeting, said the document signed by Charu Gupta.

According to the minutes of the meeting accessed by ThePrint, the list of recommendations suggests that “persons with muscular dystrophy may be excluded from the intake of ICAS…in view of difficulties they would face in discharging the responsibilities attached with the Indian Civil Accounts Services”.

“The Expert Committee also unanimously recommended the exclusion of intake of persons under the category of autism, intellectual disability, specific learning disabilities and mental illness as provided under Rule 34 (1)(c) of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, keeping in view of the role and responsibilities mandated for the ICAS,” it added.

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Who were the experts in the committee?

The panel comprised Additional CGA M. Sridharan, Joint CGA Suman Bala, Assistant CGA Vimla Nawaria, former director of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, K.V.S. Rao, and Dr R.P. Beniwal, Specialist Psychiatrist at the PGIMER RML Hospital in New Delhi.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (RwPD), 2016, states that the CGA is required to constitute an expert panel every three years to review the identified posts for the its implementation.

The act also mandates that every government fill at least four per cent of the total vacancies in each of its establishments, in each group of posts across all cadres, with persons with benchmark disabilities.

However, the expert panel recommended excluding certain categories of disabilities from the reservation in central government posts, said Rao, who retired in October.

“Such candidates can apply if they want to, but they will not be able to avail the reservation. Every cadre controlling authority conducts a review and determines their eligibility criteria. The CGA did the same,” he told ThePrint.

Even if such candidates are able to clear the examination, they stand to get disqualified in the medical rounds, as they may be deemed unfit for the job, he added.

“Since it is a Class 1 post, this person will be in a leadership position and will have to be at the top of his abilities. These parameters have been studied by the department and they can defend these 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,” Rao said.

He added that with technological advances, candidates with blindness or deafness are now eligible for certain posts as they can use computers etc with help from aides.

“As we see more technological advances, we will be including more disabilities in the basket of eligibility criteria,” Rao said.

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‘Creating a discriminatory practice’

Experts hit out at the proposed exclusion saying that a level playing field was not being provided to candidates with such disabilities.

Dr Satendra Singh, a physiologist with Delhi’s GTB Hospital, who is a a Person with Disability and a disability rights proponent, cited the Supreme Court’s appointment of a bipolar person as a district judge in Delhi this month. “On one hand, we are taking such progressive steps, and on the other, we are excluding people with such disabilities from the civil services,” he said.

“There is something called reasonable accommodation, it is something that offsets a person’s disabilities. Take my example, I use calipers to walk. That is my assistive device and with its assistance I can fulfil my responsibilities as a doctor. Similarly a person with muscular dystrophy may use an assistive device to be able to do their job efficiently,” he said.

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

“The whole purpose of the act itself was to assess candidates in a way to determine their competency to do the job irrespective of their disability. The criteria of selection should not be their mental illness but their competence. But here what they have done is assumed that people with mental illness can not do this job at all,” he said.

“This will not only create a discriminatory practice and promote ableism, but also stigmatise mental health illnesses. Candidates will start hiding their mental health issues in a bid to get such jobs. And if the criteria for a government job is set in such a fashion, you can imagine the kind of precedent it sets for the private sector,” Pathare added.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

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