Dr Sujith Jose, a wheelchair-bound urologist serving in a government hospital in Kerala, cannot apply for the same job in the premier Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER) in Puducherry due to its "insensitive and illogical" disability criteria. According to the latest office memorandum (OM) of JIPMER for the recruitment of disabled medical professionals, any faculty in the urology department needs to have the functional ability to sit, stand and walk among other things. Jose, 34, who suffered spinal injuries while undergoing urology training, performs all these functions with the help of his wheelchair which the OM hasn't specified making him disqualified for the post.
A recipient of a scholarship from the Society of International Urology in 2022 for a functional and female urology fellowship from CES University Medellin in Colombia, Dr Jose said, "I have got special training to perform urological surgeries using a standing wheelchair. Developed countries don't have such functional requirements in jobs." Jose is not the only one being deprived of a job opportunity at an institute of national importance like JIPMER due to physical disabilities. Senior medical professionals with disabilities have raised serious objections to the identification of various jobs with respective benchmark disability and functional requirements in JIPMER. They say that the OM is not only insensitive but also violates the existing law by denying job opportunities to several disabled doctors who are already holding respective positions in reputed medical institutions.
Dr Rakesh Aggarwal, Director, JIPMER, said that doctors who feel that they cannot apply because of any condition can give their representation to the institute. "Employment opportunities for disabled medical professionals are evolving. Ten years ago, we had different norms but now things have changed,” Dr Aggarwal said. On March 18, JIPMER, an institution under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, published an office memorandum in which it identified 85 various posts for which direct recruitment can be given to disabled medical professionals. Along with each post, it has described the physical condition of an individual who can perform these jobs. JIPMER claims that the identification of posts, benchmark disabilities and functional requirements are in pursuance of the provisions made in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
However, medical experts drew attention towards a government gazette notification dated January 4, 2021, which says, “If a post is already held by a person with benchmark disability, it shall be deemed to have been identified for that category of benchmark disability." Another wheelchair user, 32-year-old Nonita Gangwani, who has been working as a senior resident doctor in the physiology department of the University College of Medical Science (UCMS) Delhi for the past two-and-a-half years, will also get disqualified on similar grounds. Dr Gangwani has a 70 per cent disability of both hands and legs but the faculty post in the physiology department in JIPMER requires doctors to not only have the functional ability to sit, stand and walk but benchmark disability such as one arm, both arms, one leg, both legs, etc. According to the gazette notification of 2021, "If a post is identified in the feeder grade, the post in the promotional grade should stand identified."
"This means that the faculty post of physiology should be identified in JIPMER as Dr Gangwani is working efficiently at UCMS in the feeder cadre post of the senior resident, making the functional requirement of 'standing, bending, and walking' illogical in an era of assistive devices," Professor Satendra Singh, a leading voice of health professionals with disabilities, said. Disabled medical professionals have repeatedly raised these grievances whenever other institutes of national importance such as various AIIMS have advertised posts violating the relevant Act and the government notification. They say that the January 2021 gazette notification identified 3,566 posts as suitable for persons with benchmark disabilities in central government establishments for Groups ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’, however, it also says that the list of posts being notified is only indicative and not an exhaustive one.
"If a post is not mentioned in the list, it is not to be construed that it has been exempted,” the notification added. Prof Singh says that though these institutes are disobeying the 2021 gazette notification, even the notification has certain major drawbacks because it doesn't see disability as a human rights issue. “The mention of our body parts as one leg, one arm, etc. are outright demeaning and dehumanising,” Prof Singh said. "Our law is clear and section 33(ii) of RPDA 2016 clearly states to constitute an expert committee with representation of persons with benchmark disabilities for identification of such posts. Neither the law nor the central rules nowhere use the dehumanising terms categorising individuals with disabilities into body parts," he added.
The RPDA 2016 identifies benchmark disability as a disability of 40 per cent and above. "Even the current Chief Justice of India, Justice D Y Chandrachud, in the Vikas Kumar vs UPSC case said that reasonable accommodation determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with the disabled person concerned,” Dr Divay, a disabled doctor working with a government hospital, said.