In our first attempt at securing effective access to education for disabled students, P-PIL successfully convinced and assisted the organizers of the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) and National Law University, Delhi (NLUD) entrance examination in adopting a disabled friendly policy for visually impaired candidates.
Earlier, a 17 year old visually disabled candidate, Yugul Jain, requested the CLAT organizers to allow him to bring a scribe of his choice for writing the examination. The reason, Yugul states in an email addressed to the CLAT Help Desk: ‘Often at times, it so happens that externally provided scribes do not work well with the disabled candidates. This might have a detrimental effect on writing an exam like CLAT in which the time management is the key factor. There should be good understanding between candidate and his scribe.’ In the alternative, Yugul requested them to permit use of computer facility.
The CLAT organizers turned down both the requests and informed the candidate that a scribe will be provided by them at the examination centre and an additional time of 30 minutes will be given to write the exam.
The Indian Constitution recognizes the rights of disabled to access barrier free education. Several educational institutions permit visually impaired candidates to bring their own scribes. The National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) at Kolkata which organized CLAT also permitted disabled students to self-appoint scribes on condition that the scribe is at least one educational level below the candidate and is not pursuing a law degree.
The P-PIL team (consisting of Prof Basheer, Sai Vinod, Akshay Sharma, Vatsala Sahay and Sahana Manjesh) submitted a carefully crafted petition highlighting the issue and along with it a detailed note on the rights of visually impaired and provision of scribe facility. The research note tilted ‘Fostering Effective Access for the Disabled’ highlighted a decision of the Bombay High Court vide order dated December 18, 2006 (PIL No. 129 of 2003) which laid down elaborate ‘Guidelines for Appointment and Availing Facility of Scribe’. In pertinent part, the guidelines read as follows:
- The Scribe/writer should either be provided by the examining authority or be arranged by the candidate himself/herself at the discretion of the candidate.
- It is desirable that the candidate and the scribe are from the same stream.
- In case the candidate avails the services of his/her own scribe/writer, the scribe/writer should be one grade junior in academic qualification than the candidate if from the same stream. However, this condition shall not apply if the scribe/writer is from a different stream.
- No other restrictions should be imposed on the selection of a scribe/writer.
P-PIL team submitted the petition and the research note to Justice N. N. Mathur, Vice Chancellor, National Law University (NLU-J) and Prof. Ranbir Singh, Vice Chancellor, NLUD. Fortunately, after much deliberation and media attention, the universities announced a disabled friendly policy as per the legal norms outlined in our note.