The scheme of reservation impacts the number of posts available for persons with disabilities, and in a 2013 Judgment, the Supreme Court held that reservation under the Disabilities Act is horizontal and not vertical. It further held that the percentage of reservation for persons with disabilities must be computed from total number of vacancies available in a cadre including both identified and unidentified posts for persons with disabilities. Vacancies in a cadre are the posts that are vacant and unoccupied, and identified posts are those which have been ear marked for persons with specific disabilities. The reservation scheme applies to total vacancies and not only to identified posts.
Edited version of this important judgment is published below.
Case Title: Appellants: Union of India (UOI) and Ors. Vs. Respondent: National Federation of the Blind and Ors., MANU/SC/1025/2013.
2. This appeal is directed against the final judgment and order dated 19.12.2008 passed by the High Court of Delhi at New Delhi in Writ Petition (C) No. 15828 of 2006 wherein the High Court interpreted Section 33 of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (in short ‘the Act’) and issued various directions to be complied with by the Appellants herein.
3. Brief facts:
(a) National Federation of the Blind-Respondent No. 1 herein is an apex organization and a society registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, having its Head Office at New Delhi and is working for the protection of the rights of the visually challenged.
(b) In the year 2006, Respondent No. 1 herein filed a writ petition before the High Court in public interest seeking implementation of Section 33 of the Act alleging that the Appellants herein have failed to provide reservation to the blind and low vision persons and they are virtually excluded from the process of recruitment to the Government posts as stipulated under the said Act.
(c) In the above backdrop, it is relevant to mention that way back in 1977, the erstwhile Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of India, made reservation in favour of the following three categories of disabled persons in Group C & D posts to the extent of 1 per cent each for the (i) Blind; (ii) Hearing and Speech Impairment; and (iii) persons suffering from locomotor disability. In the year 1986, the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), directed all the departments to take into account both identified and unidentified posts for working out the total number of vacancies to be reserved for each of the disabled categories. In spite of the above said executive order, various government departments and public sector undertakings did not give effect to the scheme of reservation which compelled Respondent No. 1 herein to organize a nation wide agitation, as a result of which, an agreement was arrived at between the parties on 27.08.1987 to undertake a Special Recruitment Drive for clearing up the backlog of vacancies.
(d) On 07.02.1996, the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 was brought into force making reservation of at least 3 percent posts in all government establishments to the extent of 1 per cent each for the persons suffering from (i) blindness or low vision; (ii) hearing impairment; and (iii) locomotor disability or cerebral palsy. After enactment of the said Act, Union of India issued various orders for ensuring proper implementation of the provisions of the Act for the persons with disabilities.
(e) Respondent No. 1 herein, by filing the above said petition before the High Court asserted that despite statutory provisions and various executive orders, discrimination against the persons with disabilities continued in filling up the vacancies in various government departments whereas it was contended by the other side that the Office Memorandum (OM) dated 29.12.2005, issued by the Department of Personnel & Training, inter alia provides a system for ensuring proper implementation of the provisions of the Act for the persons with disabilities.
(f) Vide order dated 19.12.2008, the High Court disposed of the petition directing the Union of India to modify the OM dated 29.12.2005 being inconsistent with the provisions of Section 33 of the Act and issued several other directions.
(g) Being aggrieved of the above, the Appellants have preferred this appeal by way of special leave before this Court.
(h) Tamil Nadu Handicapped Federation Charitable Trust, Smt. S. Rajeswari and Association for Physically Challenged People Ordnance Clothing Factory filed applications for impleadment. Vide order dated 22.07.2011, this Court did not allow them to implead but to act as intervenors in the proceedings.
18. In the light of the above statutory provisions as well as various clauses of the OM dated 29.12.2005, let us analyze whether the High Court was justified in passing the impugned judgment.
19. Before adverting to the rival contentions submitted by the Appellants and the Respondents, it is relevant to comprehend the background and the objective of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995.
20. India as a welfare State is committed to promote overall development of its citizens including those who are differently abled in order to enable them to lead a life of dignity, equality, freedom and justice as mandated by the Constitution of India. The roots of statutory provisions for ensuring equality and equalization of opportunities to the differently abled citizens in our country could be traced in Part III and Part IV of the Constitution. For the persons with disabilities, the changing world offers more new opportunities owing to technological advancement, however, the actual limitation surfaces only when they are not provided with equal opportunities. Therefore, bringing them in the society based on their capabilities is the need of the hour.
21. Although, the Disability Rights Movement in India commenced way back in 1977, of which Respondent No. 1 herein was an active participant, it acquired the requisite sanction only at the launch of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons in 1993-2002, which gave a definite boost to the movement. The main need that emerged from the meet was for a comprehensive legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. In this light, the crucial legislation was enacted in 1995 viz., the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 which empowers persons with disabilities and ensures protection of their rights. The Act, in addition to its other prospects, also seeks for better employment opportunities to persons with disabilities by way of reservation of posts and establishment of a Special Employment Exchange for them.
22. For the same, Section 32 of the Act stipulates for identification of posts which can be reserved for persons with disabilities. Section 33 provides for reservation of posts and Section 36 thereof provides that in case a vacancy is not filled up due to non-availability of a suitable person with disability, in any recruitment year such vacancy is to be carried forward in the succeeding recruitment year. The difference of opinion between the Appellants and the Respondents arises on the point of interpretation of these sections.
23. It is the stand of the Union of India that the Act provides for only 3% reservation in the vacancies in the posts identified for the disabled persons and not on the total cadre strength of the establishment whereas Mr. S.K. Rungta, learned Senior Counsel (R-1) appearing in person submitted that accepting the interpretation proposed by the Union of India will flout the policy of reservation encompassed Under Section 33 of the Act. He further submitted that the High Court has rightly held that the reservation of 3% for differently abled persons in conformity with the Act should have to be computed on the basis of the total strength of a cadre and not just on the basis of the vacancies available in the posts that are identified for differently abled persons, thereby declaring certain clauses of the OM dated 29.12.2005 as unacceptable and contrary to the mandate of Section 33 of the Act.
24. Two aspects of the impugned judgment have been challenged before this Court:
(a) The manner of computing 3% reservation for the persons with the disabilities as per Section 33 of the Act.
(b) Whether post based reservation must be adhered to or vacancy based reservation.
25. Now let us consider the reasoning of the High Court and the submissions made by the parties.
26. Primarily, we would like to clarify that there is a sea of difference in computing reservation on the basis of total cadre strength and on the basis of total vacancies (both inclusive of identified and unidentified) in the cadre strength. At the outset, a reference to the impugned OM dated 29.12.2005 would, in unequivocal terms, establish that the matter in dispute in the given case is whether the latter method of computation of reservation will uniformly apply to the posts in Group A, B, C and D or will it be applicable only to Group C and D. The question pertaining to computation of reservation on the basis of total cadre strength does not even arise in the given circumstance of the case. However, the High Court, in the impugned judgment, went on to uphold the view that the computation of reservation must be on the basis of total cadre strength which is clearly erroneous on the face of it. Inadvertently, the Respondents herein have also adopted the same line of argument in their oral and written submissions. As a result, the point for consideration before this Court is whether the modus of computation of reservation on the basis of total number of vacancies (both inclusive of identified and unidentified) in the cadre strength will uniformly apply to Group A, B, C and D or will it be applicable only to Group C and D.
27. It is the stand of the Union of India that for vivid understanding of the reservation policy laid down Under Section 33 of the Act, it is essential to read together Sections 32 and 33 of the Act. It was also submitted that a conjoint reading of the above referred sections, mandates only reservation of vacancies in the identified posts and not in all the posts or against the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength. However, it was also admitted that the computation of reservation is being done in respect of Group C and D posts on the basis of total number of vacancies (both inclusive of identified and unidentified) in the cadre strength since 1977. In fact, the abovesaid contention has been raised in Govt. of India through Secretary and Anr. v. Ravi Prakash Gupta and Anr. MANU/SC/0445/2010 : (2010) 7 SCC 626 and, therefore, it is no longer res integra.
28. The question for determination raised in this case is whether the reservation provided for the disabled persons Under Section 33 of the Act is dependent upon the identification of posts as stipulated by Section 32. In the aforementioned case, the Government of India sought to contend that since they have conducted the exercise of identification of posts in civil services in terms of Section 32 only in the year 2005, the reservation has to be computed and applied only with reference to the vacancies filled up from 2005 onwards and not from 1996 when the Act came into force. This Court, after examining the inter-dependence of Sections 32 and 33 viz., identification of posts and the scheme of reservation, rejected this contention and held as follows:
25. …..The submission made on behalf of the Union of India regarding the implementation of the provisions of Section 33 of the Disabilities Act, 1995, only after identification of posts suitable for such appointment, Under Section 32 thereof, runs counter to the legislative intent with which the Act was enacted. To accept such a submission would amount to accepting a situation where the provisions of Section 33 of the aforesaid Act could be kept deferred indefinitely by bureaucratic inaction. Such a stand taken by the Petitioners before the High Court was rightly rejected. Accordingly, the submission made on behalf of the Union of India that identification of Grade ‘A’ and ‘B’ posts in the I.A.S. was undertaken after the year 2005 is not of much substance.
26. As has been pointed out by the High Court, neither Section 32 nor Section 33 of the aforesaid Act makes any distinction with regard to Groups A, B, C and D posts. They only speak of identification and reservation of posts for people with disabilities, though the proviso to Section 33 does empower the appropriate Government to exempt any establishment from the provisions of the said Section, having regard to the type of work carried on in any department or establishment. No such exemption has been pleaded or brought to our notice on behalf of the Petitioners.
27. It is only logical that, as provided in Section 32 of the aforesaid Act, posts have to be identified for reservation for the purposes of Section 33, but such identification was meant to be simultaneously undertaken with the coming into operation of the Act, to give effect to the provisions of Section 33. The legislature never intended the provisions of Section 32 of the Act to be used as a tool to deny the benefits of Section 33 to these categories of disabled persons indicated therein. Such a submission strikes at the foundation of the provisions relating to the duty cast upon the appropriate Government to make appointments in every establishment.
29. While it cannot be denied that unless posts are identified for the purposes of Section 33 of the aforesaid Act, no appointments from the reserved categories contained therein can be made, and that to such extent the provisions of Section 33 are dependent on Section 32 of the Act, as submitted by the learned ASG, but the extent of such dependence would be for the purpose of making appointments and not for the purpose of making reservation. In other words, reservation Under Section 33 of the Act is not dependent on identification, as urged on behalf of the Union of India, though a duty has been cast upon the appropriate Government to make appointments in the number of posts reserved for the three categories mentioned in Section 33 of the Act in respect of persons suffering from the disabilities spelt out therein. In fact, a situation has also been noticed where on account of non-availability of candidates some of the reserved posts could remain vacant in a given year. For meeting such eventualities, provision was made to carry forward such vacancies for two years after which they would lapse. Since in the instant case such a situation did not arise and posts were not reserved Under Section 33 of the Disabilities Act, 1995, the question of carrying forward of vacancies or lapse thereof, does not arise.
31. We, therefore, see no reason to interfere with the judgment of the High Court impugned in the Special Leave Petition which is, accordingly, dismissed with costs. All interim orders are vacated. The Petitioners are given eight weeks’ time from today to give effect to the directions of the High Court.
29. In the light of the above pronouncement, it is clear that the scope of identification comes into picture only at the time of appointment of a person in the post identified for disabled persons and is not necessarily relevant at the time of computing 3% reservation Under Section 33 of the Act. In succinct, it was held in Ravi Prakash Gupta (supra) that Section 32 of the Act is not a precondition for computation of reservation of 3% Under Section 33 of the Act rather Section 32 is the following effect of Section 33.
30. Apart from the reasoning of this Court in Ravi Prakash Gupta (supra), even a reading of Section 33, at the outset, establishes vividly the intention of the legislature viz., reservation of 3% for differently abled persons should have to be computed on the basis of total vacancies in the strength of a cadre and not just on the basis of the vacancies available in the identified posts. There is no ambiguity in the language of Section 33 and from the construction of the said statutory provision only one meaning is possible.
31. A perusal of Section 33 of the Act reveals that this section has been divided into three parts. The first part is “every appropriate Government shall appoint in every establishment such percentage of vacancies not less than 3% for persons or class of persons with disability.” It is evident from this part that it mandates every appropriate Government shall appoint a minimum of 3% vacancies in its establishments for persons with disabilities. In this light, the contention of the Union of India that reservation in terms of Section 33 has to be computed against identified posts only is not tenable by any method of interpretation of this part of the Section.
32. The second part of this section starts as follows: “…of which one percent each shall be reserved for persons suffering from blindness or low vision, hearing impairment & locomotor disability or cerebral palsy in the posts identified for each disability.” From the above, it is clear that it deals with distribution of 3% posts in every establishment among 3 categories of disabilities. It starts from the word “of which”. The word “of which” has to relate to appointing not less than 3% vacancies in an establishment and, in any way, it does not refer to the identified posts. In fact, the contention of the Union of India is sought to be justified by bringing the last portion of the second part of the section viz. “….identified posts” in this very first part which deals with the statutory obligation imposed upon the appropriate Government to “appoint not less than 3% vacancies for the persons or class of persons with disabilities.” In our considered view, it is not plausible in the light of established rules of interpretation. The minimum level of representation of persons with disabilities has been provided in this very first part and the second part deals with the distribution of this 3% among the three categories of disabilities. Further, in the last portion of the second part the words used are “in the identified posts for each disability” and not “of identified posts”. This can only mean that out of minimum 3% of vacancies of posts in the establishments 1% each has to be given to each of the 3 categories of disability viz., blind and low vision, hearing impaired and locomotor disabled or cerebral palsy separately and the number of appointments equivalent to the 1% for each disability out of total 3% has to be made against the vacancies in the identified posts. The attempt to read identified posts in the first part itself and also to read the same to have any relation with the computation of reservation is completely misconceived.
33. The third part of the Section is the proviso which reads thus: “Provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type of work carried on in any department or establishment, by notification subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such notification, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.” The proviso also justifies the above said interpretation that the computation of reservation has to be against the total number vacancies in the cadre strength and not against the identified posts. Had the legislature intended to mandate for computation of reservation against the identified posts only, there was no need for inserting the proviso to Section which empowers the appropriate Government to exempt any establishment either partly or fully from the purview of the Section subject to such conditions contained in the notification to be issued in the Official Gazette in this behalf. Certainly, the legislature did not intend to give such arbitrary power for exemption from reservation for persons with disabilities to be exercised by the appropriate Government when the computation is intended to be made against the identified posts.
34. In this regard, another provision of the said Act also supports this interpretation. Section 41 of the said Act mandates the appropriate Government to frame incentive schemes for employers with a view to ensure that 5% of their work force is composed of persons with disabilities. The said section is reproduced hereinbelow:
41. Incentives to employers to ensure five per cent of the work force is composed of persons with disabilities.-The appropriate Government and the local authorities shall, within limits to their economic capacity and development, provide incentives to employers both in public and private sectors to ensure that at least five percent of their work force is composed of persons with disabilities.
Thus, on a conjoint reading of Sections 33 and 41, it is clear that while Section 33 provides for a minimum level of representation of 3% in the establishments of appropriate Government, the legislature intended to ensure 5% of representation in the entire work force both in public as well as private sector.
35. Moreover, the intention of the legislature while framing the Act can also be inferred from the Draft Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2012, which is pending in the Parliament for approval. In Chapter 6 of the Bill, viz., Special Provisions for Persons with Benchmark Disabilities, similar sections like Sections 32 & 33 in the Act have been incorporated Under Sections 38 and 39 which are as under:
Section 38. Identification of Posts which can be Reserved for Persons with Benchmark Disabilities:
Appropriate Governments shall – (a) identify posts in establishments under them which can be reserved for persons with benchmark disability as mentioned in Section 39; (b) at periodical intervals not exceeding three years, review and revise the list of identified posts, taking into consideration developments in technology.
Section 39. Reservation of Posts for Persons with Benchmark Disabilities:
(1) Every appropriate Government shall reserve, in every establishment under them, not less than 5% of the vacancies meant to be filled by direct recruitment, for persons or class of persons with benchmark disability, of which 1% each shall be of all posts reserved for persons with following disabilities:
i) blindness & low vision (with reservation of 0.5% of the vacancies for each of the two disabilities).
ii) hearing impairment & speech impairment.
iii) locomotor disability including cerebral palsy, leprosy cured and muscular dystrophy.
iv) autism, intellectual disability and mental illness.
v) multiple disabilities from among i to iv above including deaf blindness.
Provided that the appropriate Government may, having regard to the type of work carried on in any department or establishment, by notification subject to such conditions, if any, as may be specified in such notification, exempt any establishment from the provisions of this section.
(2) If sufficient number of qualified persons with benchmark disabilities are not available in a particular year, then the reservation may be carried forward for upto the next three recruitment years, and if in such succeeding recruitment years also a suitable person with benchmark disability is not available, then the post in the fourth year may be first filled by interchange among the categories of disabilities; and only when there is no person with any benchmark disability available for the post in that year, the vacancy may be filled by appointment of a person, other than a person with benchmark disability.
A perusal of Sections 38 and 39 of the Bill clarifies all the ambiguities raised in this appeal. The intention of the legislature is clearly to reserve in every establishment under the appropriate Government, not less than 3% of the vacancies for the persons or class of persons with disability, of which 1% each shall be reserved for persons suffering from blindness or low vision, hearing impairment and locomotor disability or cerebral palsy in the posts identified for each disability.
36. Admittedly, the Act is a social legislation enacted for the benefit of persons with disabilities and its provisions must be interpreted in order to fulfill its objective. Besides, it is a settled rule of interpretation that if the language of a statutory provision is unambiguous, it has to be interpreted according to the plain meaning of the said statutory provision. In the present case, the plain and unambiguous meaning of Section 33 is that every appropriate Government has to appoint a minimum of 3% vacancies in an establishment out of which 1% each shall be reserved for persons suffering from blindness and low vision, persons suffering from hearing impairment and persons suffering from locomotor or cerebral palsy.
37. To illustrate, if there are 100 vacancies of 100 posts in an establishment, the concerned establishment will have to reserve a minimum of 3% for persons with disabilities out of which at least 1% has to be reserved separately for each of the following disabilities: persons suffering from blindness or low vision, persons suffering from hearing impairment and the persons suffering from locomotor disability or cerebral palsy. Appointment of 1 blind person against 1 vacancy reserved for him/her will be made against a vacancy in an identified post for instance, the post of peon, which is identified for him in group D. Similarly, one hearing impaired will be appointed against one reserved vacancy for that category in the post of store attendant in group D post. Likewise, one person suffering from locomotor disability or cerebral palsy will be appointed against the post of “Farash” group D post identified for that category of disability. It was argued on behalf of Union of India with reference to the post of driver that since the said post is not suitable to be manned by a person suffering from blindness, the above interpretation of the Section would be against the administrative exigencies. Such an argument is wholly misconceived. A given post may not be identified as suitable for one category of disability, the same could be identified as suitable for another category or categories of disability entitled to the benefit of reservation. In fact, the second part of the Section has clarified this situation by providing that the number of vacancies equivalent to 1% for each of the aforementioned three categories will be filled up by the respective category by using vacancies in identified posts for each of them for the purposes of appointment.
38. It has also been submitted on behalf of the Appellants herein that since reservation of persons with disabilities in Group C and D has been in force prior to the enactment and is being made against the total number of vacancies in the cadre strength according to the OM dated 29.12.2005 but the actual import of Section 33 is that it has to be computed against identified posts only. This argument is also completely misconceived in view of the plain language of the said Section, as deliberated above. Even, for the sake of arguments, if we accept that the computation of reservation in respect of Group C and D posts is against the total vacancies in the cadre strength because of the applicability of the scheme of reservation in Group C and D posts prior to enactment, Section 33 does not distinguish the manner of computation of reservation between Group A and B posts or Group C and D posts respectively. As such, one statutory provision cannot be interpreted and applied differently for the same subject matter.
39. Further, if we accept the interpretation contended by the Appellants that computation of reservation has to be against the identified posts only, it would result into uncertainty of the application of the scheme of reservation because experience has shown that identification has never been uniform between the Centre and States and even between the Departments of any Government. For example, while a post of middle school teacher has been notified as identified as suitable for the blind and low vision by the Central Government, it has not been identified as suitable for the blind and low vision in some States such as Gujarat and J&K etc. This has led to a series of litigations which have been pending in various High Courts. In addition, Para 4 of the OM dated 29.12.2005 dealing with the issue of identification of jobs/posts in sub Clause (b) states that list of the jobs/posts notified by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment is not exhaustive which further makes the computation of reservation uncertain and arbitrary in the event of acceptance of the contention raised by the Appellants.
40. Another contention raised by the Appellants is that the computation of reservation against the total vacancies in the cadre strength in Group A & B will violate the rule of 50% ceiling of reservation in favour of SC, ST and OBC as laid down by this Court in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India and Ors. MANU/SC/0104/1993 : AIR 1993 SC 477. This contention is also not tenable and is against the abovesaid judgment. It is difficult to understand as to how the computation of reservation against total vacancies in the cadre strength in Group A and B will violate 50% ceiling when its computation on that basis in Group C and D will not violate the said ceiling. There is no rationale of distinguishing between the manner of computation of reservation with regard to Group A and B posts on the one hand and manner of computation of reservation with regard to Group C and D posts on the other on this ground.
41. A perusal of Indra Sawhney (supra) would reveal that the ceiling of 50% reservation applies only to reservation in favour of other Backward classes under Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India whereas the reservation in favour of persons with disabilities is horizontal, which is under Article 16(1) of the Constitution. In fact, this Court in the said pronouncement has used the example of 3% reservation in favour of persons with disabilities while dealing with the rule of 50% ceiling. Para 95 of the judgment clearly brings out that after selection and appointment of candidates under reservation for persons with disabilities they will be placed in the respective rosters of reserved category or open category respectively on the basis of the category to which they belong and, thus, the reservation for persons with disabilities per se has nothing to do with the ceiling of 50%. Para 95 is reproduced as follows:
95. ……all reservations are not of the same nature. There are two types of reservations, which may, for the sake of convenience, be referred to as ‘vertical reservations’ and ‘horizontal reservations’. The reservations in favour of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes [under Article 16(4)] may be called vertical reservations whereas reservations in favour of physically handicapped [under Clause (1) of Article 16] can be referred to as horizontal reservations. Horizontal reservations cut across the vertical reservations-what is called inter-locking reservations. To be more precise, suppose 3% of the vacancies are reserved in favour of physically handicapped persons; this would be a reservation relatable to Clause (1) of Article 16. The persons selected against this quota will be placed in the appropriate category; if he belongs to S.C. category he will be placed in that quota by making necessary adjustments; similarly, if he belongs to open competition (O.C.) category, he will be placed in that category by making necessary adjustments. Even after providing for these horizontal reservations, the percentage of reservations in favour of backward class of citizens remains-and should remain-the same……
42. Yet another contention raised by the Appellants is that the reservation for persons with disabilities must be vacancy based reservation whereas Respondent No. 1 herein contended that it must be post based reservation as laid down by the High Court in the impugned judgment. Respondent No. 1 herein relied upon the heading of Section 33 of the Act, viz., ‘Reservation of Posts’, to propose the view that the reservation policy contemplated Under Section 33 is post based reservation.
43. It is settled law that while interpreting any provision of a statute the plain meaning has to be given effect and if language therein is simple and unambiguous, there is no need to traverse beyond the same. Likewise, if the language of the relevant section gives a simple meaning and message, it should be interpreted in such a way and there is no need to give any weightage to headings of those paragraphs. This aspect has been clarified in Prakash Nath Khanna and Anr. v. Commissioner of Income Tax and Anr. MANU/SC/0134/2004 : (2004) 9 SCC 686. Paragraph 13 of the said judgment is relevant which reads as under:
13. It is a well-settled principle in law that the court cannot read anything into a statutory provision which is plain and unambiguous. A statute is an edict of the legislature. The language employed in a statute is the determinative factor of legislative intent. The first and primary rule of construction is that the intention of the legislation must be found in the words used by the legislature itself. The question is not what may be supposed and has been intended but what has been said. “Statutes should be construed, not as theorems of Euclid”, Judge Learned Hand said, “but words must be construed with some imagination of the purposes which lie behind them”. (See Lenigh Valley Coal Co. v. Yensavage. The view was reiterated in Union of India v. Filip Tiago De Gama of Vedem Vasco De Gama and Padma Sundara Rao v. State of T.N.
44. It is clear that when the provision is plainly worded and unambiguous, it has to be interpreted in such a way that the Court must avoid the danger of a prior determination of the meaning of a provision based on their own preconceived notions of ideological structure or scheme into which the provision to be interpreted is somewhat fitted. While interpreting the provisions, the Court only interprets the law and cannot legislate it. It is the function of the Legislature to amend, modify or repeal it, if deemed necessary.
45. The heading of a Section or marginal note may be relied upon to clear any doubt or ambiguity in the interpretation of the provision and to discern the legislative intent. However, when the Section is clear and unambiguous, there is no need to traverse beyond those words, hence, the headings or marginal notes cannot control the meaning of the body of the section. Therefore, the contention of Respondent No. 1 herein that the heading of Section 33 of the Act is “Reservation of posts” will not play a crucial role, when the Section is clear and unambiguous.
46. Further, the Respondents heavily relied on a decision of the Constitution Bench in R.K. Sabharwal and Ors. v. State of Punjab and Ors. MANU/SC/0259/1995 : (1995) 2 SCC 745 to substantiate their contention. Para 6 reads as under:
6. The expressions “posts” and “vacancies”, often used in the executive instructions providing for reservations, are rather problematical. The word “post” means an appointment, job, office or employment. A position to which a person is appointed. “Vacancy” means an unoccupied post or office. The plain meaning of the two expressions make it clear that there must be a ‘post’ in existence to enable the ‘vacancy’ to occur. The cadre-strength is always measured by the number of posts comprising the cadre. Right to be considered for appointment can only be claimed in respect of a post in a cadre. As a consequence the percentage of reservation has to be worked out in relation to the number of posts, which form the cadre-strength. The concept of ‘vacancy’ has no relevance in operating the percentage of reservation.
47. Adhering to the decision laid by the Constitution Bench in R.K. Sabharwal (supra), the High Court held as follows:
16. The Disabilities Act was enacted for protection of the rights of the disabled in various spheres like education, training, employment and to remove any discrimination against them in the sharing of development benefits vis-`-vis non-disabled persons. In the light of the legislative aim it is necessary to give purposive interpretation to Section 33 with a view to achieve the legislative intendment of attaining equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities. The fact that the vacancy-based roster is to be maintained does not mean that 3% reservation has to be computed only on the basis of vacancy. The difference between the posts and vacancies has been succinctly pointed out in the Supreme Court decision in the case of R.K. Sabharwal and Ors. v. State of Punjab and Ors. MANU/SC/0259/1995 : AIR 1995 SC 1371 wherein it was held that the word “post” means an appointment, job, office or employment, a position to which a person is appointed. “Vacancy” means an unoccupied post or office. The plain meaning of the two expressions make it clear that there must be a ‘post’ in existence to enable the vacancy to occur. The cadre-strength is always measured by the number of posts comprising the cadre. Right to be considered for appointment can only be claimed in respect of a post in a cadre. As a consequence the percentage of reservation has to be worked out in relation to the number of posts which from the cadre-strength. The concept of ‘vacancy’ has no relevance in operating the percentage of reservation. Therefore, in our opinion, 3 % reservation for disabled has to be computed on the basis of total strength of the cadre i.e. both identified as well as unidentified posts….
48. However, the decision in R.K. Sabharwal (supra) is not applicable to the reservation for the persons with disabilities because in the above said case, the point for consideration was with regard to the implementation of the scheme of reservation for SC, ST & OBC, which is vertical reservation whereas reservation in favour of persons with disabilities is horizontal. We harmonize with the stand taken by the Union of India, the Appellant herein in this regard. Besides, the judgment in R.K. Sabharwal (supra) was pronounced before the date on which the Act came into force, as a consequence, the intent of the Act must be given priority over the decision in the above said judgment. Thus, in unequivocal terms, the reservation policy stipulated in the Act is vacancy based reservation.
49. Employment is a key factor in the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities. It is an alarming reality that the disabled people are out of job not because their disability comes in the way of their functioning rather it is social and practical barriers that prevent them from joining the workforce. As a result, many disabled people live in poverty and in deplorable conditions. They are denied the right to make a useful contribution to their own lives and to the lives of their families and community.
50. The Union of India, the State Governments as well as the Union Territories have a categorical obligation under the Constitution of India and under various International treaties relating to human rights in general and treaties for disabled persons in particular, to protect the rights of disabled persons. Even though the Act was enacted way back in 1995, the disabled people have failed to get required benefit until today.
51. Thus, after thoughtful consideration, we are of the view that the computation of reservation for persons with disabilities has to be computed in case of Group A, B, C and D posts in an identical manner viz., “computing 3% reservation on total number of vacancies in the cadre strength” which is the intention of the legislature. Accordingly, certain clauses in the OM dated 29.12.2005, which are contrary to the above reasoning are struck down and we direct the appropriate Government to issue new Office Memorandum(s) in consistent with the decision rendered by this Court.
52. Further, the reservation for persons with disabilities has nothing to do with the ceiling of 50% and hence, Indra Sawhney (supra) is not applicable with respect to the disabled persons.
53. We also reiterate that the decision in R.K. Sabharwal (supra) is not applicable to the reservation for the persons with disabilities because in the above said case, the point for consideration was with regard to the implementation of the scheme of reservation for SC, ST & OBC, which is vertical reservation, whereas reservation in favour of persons with disabilities is horizontal.
54. In our opinion, in order to ensure proper implementation of the reservation policy for the disabled and to protect their rights, it is necessary to issue the following directions:
(i) We hereby direct the Appellant herein to issue an appropriate order modifying the OM dated 29.12.2005 and the subsequent OMs consistent with this Court’s Order within three months from the date of passing of this judgment.
(ii) We hereby direct the “appropriate Government” to compute the number of vacancies available in all the “establishments” and further identify the posts for disabled persons within a period of three months from today and implement the same without default.
(iii) The Appellant herein shall issue instructions to all the departments/public sector undertakings/Government companies declaring that the non observance of the scheme of reservation for persons with disabilities should be considered as an act of non-obedience and Nodal Officer in department/public sector undertakings/Government companies, responsible for the proper strict implementation of reservation for person with disabilities, be departmentally proceeded against for the default.