4 Mar 2011

Driving Licences for Deaf: High Court rejects

Disposing a public interest litigation in a recent decision [National Association of the Deaf v. Union of India] a division bench of the Delhi High Court, comprising of the Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna, taking note of the statutory provisions governing the issue and the international conventions on the issue directed that an absolute claim by a deaf person to get a driving licence was incorrect. The Court however made a leeway for grant of licenses to such persons where they could successfully pass the medical test required for the license.

Noting that making policy-decisions, pertaining to whether deaf should be issued driving licences, was a matter to be decided by the legislature and was not within the domain of the executive, the High Court disposing the petition observed inter alia as under;
1. In this public interest litigation, the National Association of the Deaf and another describing themselves as pro bono publico have invoked the inherent jurisdiction of this Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for issue of a writ of mandamus or appropriate direction commanding the respondents to grant driving licences to deaf persons and further to issue a writ of certiorari for quashing of any policy decision restraining or creating any kind of restriction on the part of the deaf persons to get the driving licences.
4. Be it placed on record, the petitioners have referred to UN Multilateral Road Traffic Convention of 1952, UN Convention on Road Traffic of 1968, Section 2(i) of the 1995 Act and the United Nation‘s Convention on the persons with disabilities (hereinafter referred to as ‗the disability convention‘) which was ratified by India in October, 2007 to pyramid the contention that a person who has an international driving licence can drive in India though he is deaf and a deaf person in India if goes abroad can get an international driving licence and would be eligible to drive in India whereas he is not entitled to get a driving licence under the 1988 Act on the ground that he suffers from hearing impairment. It is urged that an anomalous situation has crept in since there are two categories of persons and the classification between a person who is deaf and gets a licence from the international quarters and a deaf person in India who is not in a position to get the same does not stand the test of Article 14 of the Constitution and, in fact, invites the frown of the said Article.
23. The aforesaid minutes have been treated to be a policy decision. On a scrutiny of the said decision, it is luminescent that persons who have hearing level upto 60 db with use of hearing aid in better ear may be permitted for issue of driving licence for private vehicle and hearing level upto 40 db with hearing aid in better ear may be permitted for issue of driving licence for commercial vehicle. The submission of Gonsalves, learned senior counsel for the petitioners, is that the persons who are totally deaf are also eligible to get the driving licence under the Act and the denial of the same defeats the very purpose of the 1995 Act. To appreciate the said submission, it is appropriate to refer to the scheme of the 1995 Act. The said statute was enacted to give effect to the proclamation on the full participation and equality of the people with disabilities in the Asian and Pacific regions. As is seen, it was a result of the meeting to launch the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons 1993-2002 convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific held at Beijing on 1st to 5th December, 1992 which adopted the Proclamation on the Full Participation and Equality of People with Disabilities in the Asian and Pacific Regions and further India is a signatory to the said proclamation.
32. We will be failing in our duty if we do not note the other submission of Mr.Gonsalves that certain persons who are totally deaf have the capacity to drive vehicles. He has referred to prevalent practices in many other countries. The learned senior counsel has laid emphasis on the international standard. On a perusal of the policy decision, we find that the experts have fixed a standard regard being had to the Indian conditions. The grounds ascribed in the policy decision as Mr. Chandhiok, learned Additional Solicitor General, would submit are meant to protect the collective at large from the road accidents. Thus, the claim put forth by the petitioners that they should be granted driving licence and should not be debarred from getting a licence, per se, is not justified. As has been stated earlier, for grant of a learner‘s licence, filing of medical certificate is not required but the applicant is required to go through the test as stipulated under Rule 11 of the 1989 Rules. For grant of a driving licence, one has to satisfy the conditions precedent as postulated under Section 9 and pass the test as stipulated under Rule 15 of the 1989 Rules. The claim of further privilege by totally deaf persons as a special category, in our consideration, is not permissible. However, we are obliged to certify that if an applicant is totally deaf, he has to be called for the test if he applies for a learner‘s licence without the medical certificate and if he passes the test as required under Rule 11, he shall be granted the learner‘s licence as that is the statutory requirement. Similarly, if a person belonging to the said category satisfies the necessary criteria, he shall be allowed to obtain the licence. We are not inclined to direct that the special conditions which are permitted by other countries for grant of licence to the persons who are completely deaf as the same, we are disposed to think, is in the domain of the legislature, for the legislature understands the prevalent conditions in a set up where separation of power is an insegregable facet of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

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