Why Railway facilities beyond access for persons with disabilities, asks High Court

NEW DELHI: Friday’s TOI report on how a student with disability was unable to board the train and, as a result, missed his entrance examination at Delhi University left the Delhi high court shocked as it questioned the railways over lack of facilities for persons with disabilities.

A wheelchair user being assisted to board a train at Egmore railway station. (Photo credit: The Hindu)

A bench of acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar took suo motu cognizance of the TOI report and asked the railways to explain why it was insensitive to plight of persons with disabilities in terms of ease of access and placement of coaches reserved for them.

“This newspaper report highlights the difficulties that are being faced by persons with disabilities in accessing even the coaches which are designated to be used by them. It also manifests that the railway authorities are not only not posting any personnel in the coaches earmarked for persons with disabilities to ensure their rights and to assist them to board the train, but are also permitting able persons to occupy these reserved coaches which prevents them from being utilised for the benefit of persons with disabilities for whom they are intended,” the court noted in its order.

It added that there were “special needs of every nature of disability which the railways has to take into consideration”, referring to the report that that a 100% blind youth reached Unnao railway station but couldn’t enter the coach as door of the special compartment for persons with disabilities was shut and those inside didn’t open it. It resulted in Vaibhav Shukla, the boy, missing the train and his MPhil entrance test at Delhi University.

Terming the report as an eye opener, the bench lamented that even DU did not pay attention to Shukla when he appealed to them.

“The placement of the coaches for persons with disabilities itself does not appear to be fair. Indian passenger trains have several bogies and sometimes the first and the last coaches are way beyond the length of the small platforms. The height of the coach from the ground by itself at such end points would be such that it would be daunting even for any person to board it. The inaccessibility of the railways as a mode of transport for persons with disabilities would thus be unimaginable,” HC further noted.

Even placement of the coaches for disabled left much to be desired, the court pointed out, saying the railways have not addressed the needs of persons with disabilities. “We are also not aware of any specially designated areas for waiting for persons with disabilities or any special manpower assigned for such purpose. Perhaps, if the above aspects had been noted, Vaibhav Shukla would have been able to reach Delhi to participate in the examination,” it said.

It added that since Shukla missed his exam in the peculiar facts and circumstances, DU can consider conducting an examination for him to take a shot at securing admission. It also sought to know from the Railways ministry and the North-Eastern Railways about absence of railway officials, including the driver and the guard of the train, to open and have access to a compartment from outside the coach.

“This would be essential in case any tragedy had befell the occupants of a railway coach and there were no person in the position of assisting opening of the coach from inside the train,” it underlined, stressing that if others encroach on seats meant for persons with disabilities they should be prosecuted.

Source: Times of India

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