Volume 2 Issue 20 - October 15, 2004

Disabled IAS candidates given rightful place

In their quest for justice, Rigzian Sampheal and Lokesh Kumar have been running from pillar to post for the past 13 months. It has been a hard struggle but it has been worth it. The two have not only got into the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), they have also paved the way for other candidates with disability.

Picture of Rigzian Sampheal and Lokesh Kumar.

The two received their appointment letters inducting them to the IAS on October 1, restoring their seniority. While Sampheal has been awarded the Uttar Pradesh cadre, Kumar got the Andhra Pradesh cadre. They will now undergo training from December 2004 to June 2005, and then be appointed as Assistant Collectors.

Sampheal, a Schedule Tribe candidate securing the 120th rank and Kumar (Schedule Caste) securing the 132nd rank in the exam, were denied top IAS jobs due to minor disabilities: Sampheal has a stiff knee and Kumar has mild polio.

Both were among the top 150, after a tough three-tier system of preliminaries, mains and a gruelling interview in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations held in 2002.

The UPSC combines a plethora of services including administrative, foreign and railways. Candidates are allotted their service based on their ranks. Although Sampheal and Kumar's ranks made them eligible for the top IAS posts, they were put into a comparatively lower cadre - Indian Revenue Services (IRS). A third candidate, Satish M, a Schedule Caste candidate who is orthopedically disabled, secured the 249th rank in the UPSC exam but was - believe it ir not - asked to go back home.

Since then, Sampheal and Kumar have been waging a lone battle against the authorities and finally approached the high court. The media uproar generated by their case prompted the Prime Minister to take notice and the UPSC was pulled up for gross misconduct.

The Department of Personnel and Training offered a bizarre logic for not able to appoint the men in question.: Since all three are persons with disability, they were considered for reservation under the Disabilities Act 1995. But since no IAS or IRS post had yet been identified for reservation since the Act came into effect, Sampheal and Kumar were forced into the Indian Information Service (IIS), while Satish, who was eligible for the IRS, was sent back home.

Sampheal and Kumar said that for the first time, the whole episode had made them feel disabled.

"For the past 13 months I have been living a life of a 'disabled' person'; you can say that prior to that no one ever made me feel this way. I feel that disability is a state of mind, not physique. My friends or family have never made me feel that I am lacking anything. Frankly, I have never felt I was disabled," said Sampheal.

"Ultimately I want to forget all those days [of struggle]. I don't want to recollect that [time]... .," added Kumar.

The duo claim, "Equal opportunities to disabled people are actually being distorted by absurd and deliberate misinterpretation to achieve exactly the opposite. Disabled people do not stand a chance in the IAS and other prestigious central services."

The two had earlier knocked on all possible doors for justice, including the Prime Minister, President, Cabinet Secretary, Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Commission and the Disability Commission.

Taking suo motto cognisance of the matter, the High Court admitted it as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in February earlier this year. While hearing the case, the High Court asked that if disabled people were allowed to take the examination, how was it that they were found ineligible for the IAS after successfully clearing that same exam, especially after the medical board set up to screen successful candidates had cleared Sampheal, Kumar and Satish? The Court also observed that though disabled candidates were earlier permitted to join the IAS, the 1995 Disabilities Act, drafted to help them, had in effect made them ineligible for the service.

The government, after initially trying to defend its interpretation of the law, quickly changed track when the Court asked some tough questions. After many hearings, the government accepted its blunder and told the Court that its mistakes would be corrected.

After the High Court ruling in March, the PMO (under A.B. Vajpayee) called the two in April and got them examined by a new medical board, which declared them fit for the services.

Lthustob Sampheal, a retired lecturer, is thankful following the vindication of his son. "Now my son can plan his life. Till now the sword of uncertainty was hanging over his head," he said. Sampheal's mother S. Dolma may not know the importance of the word 'IAS', but she is aware her son has become a District Collector.

Kumar's parents, when contacted in Karnataka, were simply speechless. "It is yet to sink in," said his father Samaraju. "Now that he has become an IAS officer, we have asked him to relax and settle down in life," chipped in his mother, Rajamma.

It is commendable that the government admitted its blunder in denying Sampheal and Kumar their rightful IAS place under the sun. It implies that disabled candidates can now take the exams with realistic hope of getting into the IAS. The rest, as they say, is history, with a happy ending for a change.

But the story is yet not over for one man, Satish M. from Hyderabad. His 249th rank, in the toughest exam in India, notwithstanding, he was sent packing. Will the government see to it that while justice is done to two candidates, a third deserving disabled candidate is not left out?

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