Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bombay Hight Courts directs Railways to be sensitive to disabled

Dear Friends,

Our disability law is almost 16 years old now. What it mandated to ensure accessibility for the disabled in public spaces including modes of transport such as road, Rail and airways, these modes continues to ignore the rights of the disabled people. There is some improvement in the road transport in few pockets such as a Metro Rail in Delhi or Low Floor buses with corresponding road infrastructure in BRT  dedicated corridors. However, largely, the railways has been most insensitive to the needs of the disabled. It impacts the persons with disabilities all the more aggressively since rail happens to be the most economic option for long distance travel in India. Knowing well their obligation under the disability law, the railways has taken resolutions/ passed memorandums and instructions. However, on ground there is hardly any change and the worst is the maintenance track record. One can find most unhygienic toilets on the Indian Railways - in both coaches and at platforms. This is just not managed professionally.  Here is some advice from the Mumbai High Court and I can tell you, there are several of such public interest litigation in various other High Courts in India with Railways only busy defending these cases in the Courts at the Exchequer expenses. Can  it deploy its resources to promote accessibility and good hygiene at Railway properties rather than paying hefty professional fee to Standing Counsels to defend the petitions against it? I am sure the former would be easier, cost effective and in the larger interest.

News coverage




Asking the Railways to be sensitive towards the needs of the differently-abled, the Bombay high court on Monday asked the body to address two primary issues immediately - disabled-friendly toilets and ticket windows of a lower level to make it accessible for a wheelchair-bound person.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by India Centre for Human Rights, an NGO, in 2007, seeking easy access for differently-abled persons to the railway platforms in the city.

A division bench of chief justices Mohit Shah and Roshan Dalvi has asked the court-appointed committee to devise a plan for implementing the 1998 government resolution which recommends establishing of disabled-friendly toilets and lower level ticket window at all city stations.
In October 2011, the HC had appointed a committee - one from the petitioner NGO, an officer from the accounts department, one engineer and three officers each from the Western and Central Railways - to come up with solutions for problems faced by the differently-abled.
“Without telling you (Railways), your officers should address the issues. You know your own recommendation since 1998. Why should someone else point it out to you?” asked chief justice.
The 1998 GR was pointed out by Kranti LC, advocate for the NGO, saying that the Railways have not been taking the initiative for making the platforms disabled-friendly.
Kranti pointed out that some of their NGO’s members had taken a survey of 104 stations. “Only 3% of toilets are accessible to the disabled,” he said. He further pointed out that in their July 2011 affidavit, they had suggested that slopes for access to platforms were too steep at several stations and this had not been rectified.
Beni Chatterji and Suresh Kumar - counsels for the Western railways - said that the NGO should point out the deficiencies to them and they would then take necessary actions. To this, chief justice frowned and said, “Why should anyone point out deficiencies? That’s why we have constituted the committee. What have you been doing?”
Chatterji assured the court that this time they would definitely look into their grievances. The chief justice suggested that Chatterji remain present in the next committee meeting.
Directing the railways to give priorities to the issues of toilets and lower ticket windows, the court has asked the railways to submit an Action Taken Report on the next date of hearing on March 1. 

Source: DNA  India