After keeping out doctors with disability from over a thousand central health services (CHS) jobs for years, the health ministry has decided to open up teaching, non-teaching and public health specialist cadres of CHS to doctors with disability. The decision was the result of one doctor’s relentless fight for justice over four years.

It all began in 2011, when Dr Satendra Singh, who became an assistant professor of Physiology in the University College of Medical Sciences and Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital in Delhi in 2008, applied for the post of assistant professor (physiology) in the Teaching Specialist sub-cadre of CHS through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). He received no interview call.

Dr Singh, whose right leg is affected by polio, is certified as having 70% locomotor disability of the lower limb. The Medical Council of India has extended 3% reservation for persons with disability in medical college admissions, open only to students with locomotor disability of the lower limb between 40% and 70%. However, many such students who completed their MBBS and post-graduation were being kept out of services for which recruitment is done through the UPSC. “They are never told why they are rejected. I have a permanent job. I am in Delhi. How many doctors with disability who were rejected by UPSC can go to court or even approach the UPSC?” said Dr Singh, who is also a member of the Delhi Medical Council.

According to Dr Singh, he mentioned his disability in the application form because it demanded the information and not because he wanted to be selected under the disability quota. “On getting no interview call, I enquired at the UPSC recruitment cell and was told I am not fit to apply as I was disabled. This, despite the fact that I was already working as an assistant professor in a medical college under a central university,” said Dr Singh.

He then approached the Central Administrative Tribunal, which asked the UPSC to call him for interview. He was called, but did not get selected. In 2013, seeing an ad for the same post, he applied just to find out if things had changed for disabled candidates. In the online form, when he filled the boxes on disability, type and percentage, the registration flashed, “sorry, you are not eligible for the post.” Nothing had changed.

Dr Singh approached the court of the Chief Commissioner for persons with disability and the health ministry and got permission to apply for the posts, but UPSC cancelled all interviews in physiology, for reasons not known. “I was allowed to apply, but what about other candidates like me? I wanted the policy changed for all candidates with disability and not just for me and so I decided to follow up the issue,” said Dr Singh.

Through an RTI application, Dr Singh found out that all specialist jobs under CHS, whether teaching, non-teaching or public health, were deemed not suitable for persons with disabilities. “To be granted an MBBS or MD/MS (post-graduation) degree, all disabled medical students attend clinical postings, operation theatres, OPDs and emergency postings during internship. How could they say we are not suitable? It was shocking. So, in December 2014, I wrote to the health minister requesting that all specialist posts under CHS be opened for doctors with disabilities,” said Dr Singh.

Though the minister sought action, it was only after repeated reminders and phone calls to ministry officials that Dr Singh was finally told that all CHS posts were open to persons with disabilities. However, they did not give him a copy of the order. It took an RTI application for him to eventually get a copy on June 6.

Thanks to Dr Singh’s persistence, 756 posts in the teaching specialist sub-cadre, 770 posts in non-teaching specialist sub-cadre and 78 posts in public health specialist sub-cadre have been thrown open to doctors with disabilities.

“PM Modi tweeted on World Disability Day that we, the people with disabilities, are ‘heroes’. Unfortunately, these heroes have to go to courts for their rights and a government doctor has to file an RTI to get a government order,” lamented Dr Singh.