For the judge at Delhi’s Tis Hazari court hearing this particular dispute related to a dead man’s will was a unique experience.
The deceased, the beneficiary and the attesting witness — three brothers — were all visually challenged. And so was the representing lawyer.
The judge refused to admit the attestation by a visually challenged witness. But the lawyer told the court that the Indian Evidence Act nowhere disqualifies a visually challenged person from being a competent witness.
“Going by this analogy, a blind cannot become a lawyer as he has to identify his clients once he attested their vakalatnama (document authorising a particular lawyer to represent a client),” the lawyer told the judge who was finally convinced.
“Attesting a will, signing a document by itself goes to the very root of the recognition by the law of an individual to be competent,” said lawyer S.K. Rungta, remembering the three-year-old episode.
Rungta, who fearlessly took on the judge who questioned the legal capacity of a visually challenged person four years ago, now spearheads a legal battle in the Delhi HC for the rights of 15 million visually challenged persons in India.
Thirtyone years after the Ministry of Social Justice promised one per cent reservation in lower level posts in government and Public Sector Units (PSU) for the visually challenged and 13 years after the Disablity Act made the quota “obligatory”, it remains merely on paper.
Several rounds of nation-wide agitations by the visually impaired also did not yield any result following which they knocked the doors of the court in 2006.
They deployed Rungta, their “best spokesman” with 26 years of experience in courts, in their endeavour to get justice.
Rungta (54) is the general secretary of National Federation of Blind and the only visually impaired lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court. He handles more than 600 cases, excluding the large number of cases of blind clients, which he argues free of cost.
Other lawyers and litigants present in the court sympathise when he is led up the aisle by an assistant. But when he begins his arguments, it quickly becomes clear that he is not to be taken lightly.
There are instances when he argued for a full day running his fingers over the pages of bulky notes prepared in Braille.
Rungta slammed the centre for ignoring the visually impaired. He said they were forced to take the RTI route when the government maintained a steady silence on the status of implementation of reservation.
Though the Ministry of Personnel and Staff Selection Commission claimed implementation of reservation on the basis of “vacancies occurring every year”, RTI responses in possession of Hindustan Times give contradictory impression.
It revealed that most government departments and PSUs were “insensitive” to the blind and were yet to make a single appointment.
Rungta said reservation was to be calculated on the basis of sanctioned strength of an institution.
He also produced various newspaper advertisements issued by Staff Selection Commission excluding blinds from even applying for various posts.
The hearing recently entered a crucial phase with a Bench of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar, realizing the seriousness of the issue, asked Additional Solicitor General P.P. Malhotra to appear before it on Wednesday, October 15, and assist it in the case
The Deputy Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities has also been asked to respond to Rungta’s contentions on Wednesday.