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IIT student with Dyscalculia approaches Supreme Court claiming violation of PWD Act

IIT student with Dyscalculia approaches Supreme Court claiming violation of PWD Act

Shruti Mahajan

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by a student of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai with a learning disability, challenging a Bombay High Court judgment that rejected her claim to a Master of Design degree.

The petitioner Naman Varma, who has a learning disability called ‘Dyscalculia’, has filed this petition through Advocate Anand Varma. The petition claims that the approach of IIT Mumbai was not in line with the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.

It is claimed that IIT Mumbai is in blatant violation of the Disabilities Act since it does not provide reservation for people with learning disability, and recognizes only ‘physical disability’.

The petitioner had secured admission in IIT Mumbai in the Master of Design program in 2013 after an interim order was passed by the Bombay High Court. This order was further confirmed by the Supreme Court, when it dismissed a special leave petition filed by IIT against the interim order.

Varma went on to complete her course under further interim orders of the Court. However, she was refused the final degree. It is pointed out that there was a specific admission made by IIT Mumbai that the Institute’s entrance exam did not contemplate reservations for people with learning disability. The same fact was also observed in the impugned judgment of the Bombay High Court.

The learning disability ‘Dyscalculia’, from which the petitioner suffers, leads to severe difficulty in making calculations due to a brain disorder. The petitioner had obtained a learning disability certificate in 2006 and was accordingly given time and marks relaxations in her Board exams as well as her Graduate level exams.

When she applied for the Master of Design course in IIT Mumbai, it was found that the online exam did not contemplate an option for persons with a learning disability and the only option contained was that of ‘physical disability’. The petitioner was, therefore, constrained to go through admission under the general category.

This exclusion of ‘learning disability’ from the admission form is ex-facie violative of the Disabilities Act, according to the petition.

“that inclusion of only “physical disability” in the online form and the exclusion of “learning disability” from the form is ex-facie violative of the spirit and purpose behind the 1995 Act… the 1995 Act was enacted to ensure that all persons with disabilities, whether physical or learning, are given equal opportunities and are not discriminated against in any manner.”

After the entrance exam result was declared, the petitioner made several requests to IIT Mumbai to consider her for reservation under Section 39 of the Disabilities Act, but the Institute replied in the negative. Subsequently, the petitioner’s father approached the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities.

The Commissioner advised IIT to consider the application of the petitioner after submission of her learning disability certificate. The Institute, however, expressed its inability to consider the application, stating that the petitioner did not apply under the physical disability category initially and is seeking a change of category after the announcement of results.

The High Court passed interim orders allowing the petitioner to attend classes for the course she applied for and for her to take the exams. The interim order was challenged by IIT, and it was dismissed.

Although, when it came to granting the final degree, the Bombay High Court had taken the view that such a direction can only be passed by the Supreme Court under Article 142. The Court observed,

“In our view there can be no uncertainty over the powers of the High Courts while exercising the writ jurisdiction. The High Courts do not have powers to pass an order to do complete justice to the parties similar to those the Supreme Court would pass under Article 142… 

…We are of the view that although the Petitioner may be entitled to be declared successful in the course we are unable to grant her any further relief in this Petition for want of necessary powers under Article 226 to declare the Petitioner as having passed M.Des program held by IDC…”

The petitioner has now approached the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court judgment, terming the action of IIT Mumbai as “perverse” and erroneous.