New Delhi: A round-table on accessible road transport for persons with disabilities (PwDs) was organised by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in New Delhi on May 30. Some key suggestions made by a cross-section of individuals working in the disability sector included the need for making public transport friendly for PwDs, easing norms for modification of private vehicles (by PwDs) and encouraging vehicle manufacturers to build vehicles modified as per their needs.
The speakers, who were from various non-governmental organisations, corporate houses and government agencies, discussed their experiences, observations and suggestions, which brought out the fact that while a lot has been said and done thus far, it is but a minuscule effort in what the country actually needs to make its transport and civic infrastructure friendly for all PwDs, who supposedly number over 50 million. The need for uniformity in policies, plans and infrastructure was also emphasised.
Laws discriminate against PwDs
Despite new laws being framed for the welfare of the PwDs, like the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, many laws and procedures still discriminate against them. As Meenu Bhambhani, head of corporate social responsibility at Mphasis (an IT services company) pointed out, her driving licence needs to be renewed every five to eight years since she is a PwD, while that of her husband, who is not a PwD, needs a renewal every 20 years.
She also said that she is not permitted to drive any other vehicle besides hers (which she has been allowed to modify), even if it is the same make. Additionally, she can only drive in her city as her licence is not valid anywhere else.
All PwDs are not equal in the eyes of law
Pradeep Raj, general secretary of Association for Disabled People, highlighted how the treatment of persons with different kind of disabilities varies due to lacunae in the law. “People with orthopaedic disability face a lot of problem in getting their driving licences made. A person who has disability in one leg may still be able to get it made, but those who are afflicted with polio or have disability in both legs find it almost next to impossible.”
He said that the rules vary from state to state and while PwDs find the process somewhat easier in Delhi and Gujarat, they have to struggle with the process in most other states.
Approved benefits elude most beneficiaries
When it comes to benefits, Raj said that PwDs struggle to avail them owing to discrimination. “If a PwD has a problem in the left leg, he can avail of 10% excise rebate in vehicle purchase in advance, whereas in all other cases, they have to make a claim for refund with the department, which it may or may not provide.”
In this regard, he said, when a PwD wants to avail of the excise relief, the dealers lose interest in entertaining them as it entails extra paperwork at the time of registration. Similarly, in the case of toll tax, he said, PwDs have to fight it out with private operators despite being exempt from it.
Raj said much of the problem was arose because the earlier classification of vehicles used by PwDs as ‘invalid carriage’ as in Gujarat or ‘D’ vehicles in Delhi has been done away with. Some of the speakers suggested that special transferable stickers or badges be issued to all PwDs which they may be able to use at both toll plazas and for parking of whichever vehicle they are travelling in.
Lack of coordination between Centre and states
Director of Disability Rights Initiative at Human Rights Law Network, Rajive Raturi, spoke about the lack of coordination between the Centre and the states when it comes to creating a barrier-free environment for all. Likewise, the agencies which are implementing projects and providing approvals are usually not on the same page and gaps exist in both law and policy.
Raturi said while earlier, accessibility was linked to the economic prosperity of a state, the RPwD Act had provided clarity of the need for having accessibility in transport. He said it has been 13 years since his organisation had filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court in the matter. While the Centre, he said, wanted only 10% of all public transport to be accessible, his organisation had last year urged in the matter that efforts should be made to ensure that all public transport is made accessible. He said so far nearly 20 states have filed their affidavits in the matter before the apex court. Among the states which have not responded are Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The response, he said, varied greatly with Delhi saying over 3,700 of its 6,300 buses were low floor and disabled friendly; Meghalaya saying 18% of its fleet was accessible; while Sikkim claiming that it only provided bus passes to PwDs and had wheelchairs at its bus stations.
‘All DTC buses to get GPS connected display boards in three months’
A teacher at Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre, Sachin Singh, suggested that like the Delhi Metro, all buses should have display boards so that the hearing impaired know when to alight.
Chairman and managing director of Delhi Transport Corporation, Manoj Kumar, said that global positioning system (GPS) would be installed in all buses across the country shortly. “The tenders have already been floated and we expect the process to start in about three months.” With this, he said, it would become possible to install display boards inside the buses as well.
While the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi had sought large scale procurement of low floor buses, a large number of semi-floor and standard floor buses were procured as the manufacturers were unable to meet Delhi’s needs, said Kumar. So now, he said, the city has initiated the process of procurement of 1,000 standard floor buses which would not be able to accommodate wheelchairs but would be friendly for the visually and hearing impaired.
Suggestions for Ola, Uber
Some of the speakers also had suggestion for the two major taxi aggregators, Ola and Uber. They said when bookings are done by PwDs suffering from hearing disability, the drivers instead of calling, should send text messages, as is done in several European countries. Also, some of them called for greater sensitisation of their drivers.
As Faisal of Cheshire Home said: “Often they make faces on seeing a PwD as it takes longer for them to board and alight and keeping their wheelchairs requires extra effort.” In another session, one of the speakers raised the need for vehicle manufacturers or modifiers to create a mechanism whereby wheelchairs could be strapped on the exterior of a vehicle, as it is often done in some developed countries.
Government bringing about some changes in rules
An official of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said that visual and audible symbols would be incorporated in all the buses shortly. He said rules are also being amended so that vehicle manufacturers would be able to certify that a modified vehicle is safe for use.
With the height of buses posing a major problem, he said planning is afoot to make the bus stops compatible with the buses. Likewise, a common code is being mooted for all the states for making driving licences of PwDs.