Friday, October 8, 2010

Bombay High Court steps in to ensure Barrier Free Environment for persons with disabilities

Dear Friends,

Many people think what they can do if the pedestrian infrastructure is inaccessible to the disabled or the public places including Government offices are on the second floor without any provision of accessibility or that the local transport facilities are inaccessible to the elderly and the disabled! So they keep suffering the discrimination in silence and often attribute the problems to their own physical inability to cope up in the inaccessible city!

Also given the busy life to make two ends meet, one seldom get in to actions seeking rights from government agencies that demand time, money and congregations of like minded people. But, few disabled people organisations have woken up and started resisting against the apathy of the civic agencies, government in smaller towns and cities. However, the common experience has been that a representation to the Disability Commissioner in States which are often additional charge offices of bureaucrats and many times literally defunct offices in the States not aware about what to do in such a case fails to evoke any sympathy or corrective measure. Also the representations to the civic agencies or the transport departments fail to invoke any one's attention for them it is a non issue  in semi urban and rural India.

This is despite the fact that the Persons with Disabilities Act was passed way back in 1995 and currently Expert committees and activists are mulling changes required in the existing legislation in light of UNCRPD. The Act of 1995 is strong enough to make the state government take positive action to ensure barrier free environment at least in public transport, public roads and pedestrian infrastructure, in schools, colleges & offices that regularly see and deal with persons with disabilities and the elderly!

However, in Nagpur, a disabled scientist petitioned the High Court through a lawyer who is herself disabled against the apathy of the government. The court finds  a reason and directs that the petitioners along with architects be allowed to inspect all government buildings. Court has given two weeks time for the government to respond. This brings to the fore that when the attempts with the administration and civic agencies fail, disability rights can very convincingly be achieved through our active and responsible Indian Judiciary  who have always stood with the marginalized.

So the lesson learnt is- If rights are not automatically coming, citizen should demand for them by all the means available to them and the doors of the courts should be knocked if every thing fails. I am hopeful that with the recent launch of a Central Scheme "Scheme for Implementation of PwD Act 1995 (SIDPA)" by Govt. of India, the states would take immediate steps to ensure that the environment is made accessible to all citizen including the elderly, children and the disabled.

For information of all, just two days back Government of India issued a press release inviting proposals from States for giving Central Assistance to the tune of Rs. 100 crore to provide barrier free environment in Govt. Buildings and to make Government Websites accessible to the Persons with Disabilities. (Read the PIB release here) based on their said SIPDA Scheme. Click here for various other schemes of Ministry of Social Justice

Good wishes for the petitioners at Nagpur!

regards
Subhash Chandra Vashishth

To read the coverage in detail click on the link  Move to make buildings disabled friendly


NAGPUR: The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to allow free access to a team of petitioners and experts from Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) to all government buildings in the city to explore possibilities of making then friendly for the physically handicapped. 

The court's direction came on a plea filed by P N Andhare, a disabled scientist from the city, through his counsel Trupti Udeshi who is also physically handicapped. A division bench comprising justices Sharad Bobde and Mridula Bhatkar granted two weeks more to the government to file a reply on whether facilities for disabled could be constructed at Vasantrao Deshpande hall and social welfare department. 

The team will visit every government department and look for the facilities for disabled persons. It will also suggest how facilities like ramps could be erected there. The petitioner, who is 80% disabled, had filed the PIL through an NGO Indradhanu praying for compliance of Maharashtra government resolution of 2005 which mandated facilities for disabled. Secretary of Indradhanu Prakash Sohoni is another petitioner. 

According to the duo, local authorities including Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) should make efforts to implement byelaws, guidelines and measures to ensure a barrier-free environment and non-discrimination in transport for the handicapped and senior citizens. Giving examples, Andhare and Sohoni pointed out that social welfare department was on second floor in Zilla Parishad building and there was no provision of lift. 

Moreover, in the renovated government buildings including Deshpande Hall, no efforts were made to incorporate ramp or railing to benefit the disabled. Pointing out several lacunae on the roads and footpaths, the petitioners claimed they were laid in such a way that it became difficult for both the disabled and the elderly to move while encroachments on all footpaths created obstacles in movement. 

They contended that despite Lokayukta's recommendations, the master transportation plan for the city had no provisions for disabled.

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