Railways Fails to Treat Persons With Disabilities With Respect and Care

Doctor with disability exposes the lack of sensitivity at New Delhi railway station – a wake up call ahead of India’s bid to modernise hundreds of its stations.

Credit: Twitter

Credit: Satendra Singh

New Delhi: At a time when hundreds of crores of rupees are being spent by the Narendra Modi government to celebrate its two years in office, a Delhi-based disability rights activist has questioned the absence of even basic facilities to ensure safe commutes for persons with disabilities after a visit to New Delhi railway station. He has also challenged the refusal of the railways to recognise the disability certificates persons with disabilities have to grant travel concessions.

Satendra Singh, associate professor of physiology at the University College of Medical Sciences and Delhi’s GTB Hospital, and a person with disability, has come out with a series of photographs and statements on the state of affairs at New Delhi railway station. The underlying message is that if apathy towards persons with disabilities is so rampant in the heart of the capital, one can well imagine the state in other places.

Incidentally, as per the 2001 census, there are around 22 million persons with disabilities in the country, constituting about 2.3% of the population. Considering that barrier-free environments are also needed for the sick and aged, the number of people actually in need of a support mechanism and better infrastructure is much higher.

During his visit to New Delhi railway station, recently in the news for having introduced world-class executive lounge facilities, Singh found that although huge sums of money had been spent on luxuries, some of the promised basic services for the disabled were missing or inadequate.

Writing about this issue elaborately on his Storify profile, where he has also posted pictures to support his claims, Singh mentioned that the station does not even have lifts for the disabled and elderly. And even the future appears bleak, he said, as in the budget, railway stations were promised more escalators rather than elevators. “Escalators are not means of egress for disabled,” he said.

Recalling his experience at New Delhi station, he said, “I am myself a person with disability and was waiting for the battery operated car deployed for the disabled but it was nowhere to be seen. Surprisingly, there are no lifts at the railway station”. Singh said he also discovered to his horror that whenever a wheelchair user arrived, in the absence of a lift, coolies lifted them onto the escalator. “The PM called us ‘divine’ and this is how our dignity is compromised on a daily basis,” Singh said, adding that the government spent over 1,000 crore rupees on its two year bash but had it spent 1% of the amount for the benefit of the disabled, they would not have to face this kind of humiliation. 

Also, Singh charged that despite New Delhi railway station being an “A1” category station, there were no toilets for the disabled there. “Seven months ago, I had highlighted that while bullet trains were desirable, disabled-friendly stations and trains were a necessity, but no heed has been paid to this aspect”.

Singh also claimed that he did not find a battery-operated car at the station when he asked for it during his visit and that two railways employees lied to him that the service had been discontinued a month and a half ago. On the other areas of concern for persons with disabilities visiting the station, Singh said it does not have a reserved lane for parking of vehicles carrying persons with disabilities. Similarly, he said, “none of the counters meant for [the] disabled has lower height.”

On the other hand, he claimed, the infrastructure provided to railway officers continued to be much better. “See their ramps and compare them with those at the Divisional Railway Manager’s (DRM) office where disabled persons come to get railway ID cards for ticketing. Both of these are in the same complex in the DRM office, Delhi. Calling disabled persons ‘divyang’ won’t give them wings to fly off these barriers,” he wrote.

The harassment of persons with disabilities, Singh insisted, does not end with the lack of infrastructure alone. The railways, he said, is now asking persons with disabilities who seek concessionary travel rates for “unnecessary information” that does not find a mention in any government circular. This is causing further harassment to disabled persons.

“The DRM office is further harassing [us] by asking for irrelevant certificates,” he said, adding that “disabled people have their disability certificate and yet the railways is asking for a separate card for railway concession. Despite having this also, we were not able to book online through IRCTC, though elderly citizens have this option.”

Singh said that after a high court ruling, persons with disabilities were allowed to book online and the railways had introduced the new railway card last June for this purpose. But the procedure for procuring this card has become too lengthy, he said, questioning why the Delhi DRM office needs a separate disability certificate when persons with disabilities have a railway concession form signed by a doctor.

Citing a specific case, Singh said his colleague Nirad Yadav had applied for a railway card last June but has still not received it.

Questioning the logic behind this exercise, Singh has also observed that it was one in futility as the ministry of social justice and empowerment is coming up with a universal identity card for the disabled.

Singh’s complaint and pleadings are timely as India is now heading towards modernisation of its railway stations in a big way and keeping these user perspectives in mind would help the country become barrier free in the real sense of the word.