Monday, March 4, 2013

Concerns arising out of Rail Budget 2013 for Persons with Disabilities

Dear Colleagues,

Recent railway budget speech of the railway minister announced the following for the benefit of persons with disabilities:

"India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the rights of the disabled. We are conscious of our responsibility under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To facilitate the boarding of trains and exit from the stations for the differently-abled and the elderly, the steps proposed include provision of 179 escalators and 400 lifts at A-1 and other major stations, affixing Braille stickers indicating the layout of coaches including toilets, provision of wheel chairs and battery operated vehicles at more stations and making coaches wheel-chair friendly.

In order to provide an employment avenue to the disabled people, I propose to reserve a specified number of JTBS for them, keeping in view the fact that the PCOs at stations have become largely redundant after the mobile revolution in India".

Concerted efforts to fill up approximately 1.52 lakh vacancies this year. It is a measure of popularity of railways as an employer that a staggering 2.2 crore applications were received. For the first time, Railway recruitment examinations were held at more than 60 cities across the country. In the process, a backlog of about 47,000 vacancies earmarked for weaker sections and physically challenged is likely to get cleared".

PIB has published the budget highlights that are available in PDF at link: Rail Budget 2013 highlights.

Critical Review of Rail Budget 2013

Here is a the para - wise critical review of the rail budget 2013 from the perspective of the disability sector and the mandate of UNCRPD and the spirit of Disability Act::

(a)       Passenger Amenities:  The paragraph does not mention the amenities will be made inclusive and follow universal design standards to be accessible and friendly to everyone irrespective of abilities. Persons with reduced mobility have been facing infrastructural barriers in the community for a long time. The railways must declare and budget for making its rolling stock as well as platforms and services accessible and barrier free based on universal design. Currently the effort is just to make a small exclusive section accessible which actually excludes people from the mainstream and renders them vulnerable.  While A-1 and major stations have been proposed to be made accessible by lifts and escalators, we strongly suggest you to include sustainable non-dynamic features like ramped access to foot-over bridges at all the Railways stations to provide connectivity to all the platforms (as provided on Agra Railway Station and few others). This makes it easier for passengers with heavy luggage, those travelling with elderly members and children and for women.   Similarly, the concern of platform to train compartment transfer is still unaddressed. Even the so called disabled friendly coach has four steps to access it hence it remains inaccessible to disabled people. It is pertinent to mention here that the philosophy of Universal Design has been specially included in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) that you have so kindly referred to in the Budget speech.

(b)      IT enabled services: The paragraph is silent on the web accessibility standards requirement, online booking allowing booking concessional tickets by passengers with disabilities and other listed services inclusive. This is despite the fact the UNCRPD specifically refers to making all the Web services accessible and Govt of India has already mandated WCAG 2.0 level for websites. The online system continues to ignore passengers with disabilities.  (UNCRPD Article 9 : Accessibility)

(c)       Ticket Reservation: The paragraph doesn’t mention about accessible e-ticketing facility even while talking about the enhancing the speed and capacity of the system. Declaring and clarifying the same would be in line with the mandate of the UNCRPD that India stands committed to. (UNCRPD Article 9 : Accessibility)

(d)      Catering:  The toll free number for complaint doesn’t address the needs of persons with hearing impairment/ Deaf passengers who primarily depend on the text SMS for filing any complaint. It is requested to consider SMS based complaints also to make it inclusive to deaf passengers. (UNCRPD Article 9 : Accessibility)

(e)       Rail Tourism: This section doesn’t mention about accessibility while the designing the executive lounge at Delhi. Similarly regarding the trains, it says "The train will be made attractive and affordable through concessional fares", without any mention of their being accessible based on universal design so that everyone irrespective of disabilities can enjoy the use the lounge and train services. It would be pertinent to mention that accessibility will promote rail tourism also among a large number of international travelers with disabilities, elderly travelers and their families who have been, so far getting discouraged due to lack of accessible tourism options in the Country. (UNCRPD Article 9 : Accessibility & Article 30 - Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport)

(f)       Staff: Our experience indicates that the amenities such as quarters and hostels etc continue to be designed without keeping the needs of the diversity of employees. Railway being the largest public sector employer, it would be in the fitness of things that staff amenities such as the quarters and hostel are made barrier free based on universal design and that the ministry makes a special mention about it in its formal communications. (UNCRPD Article 9 : Accessibility)

(g)      Skill Development:  This section must include marginalized groups and persons with disabilities to bring them to the mainstream so as to realize the mandate of the UNCRPD. (UNCRPD Article 24 Education & Article 27 Work & Employment)

(h)      Rail Heritage: The plan to revamp the museum for the benefit of children is a welcome step. Currently, there are lots of accessibility issues from the perspectives of children with visual, mental and physical disabilities and it should be confirmed that the whole revamp would be done in consultation with the involvement of stakeholders so that the museum is based on best international standards and inclusive to every child irrespective of his abilities. (UNCRPD Article 9 Accessibility & Article 30 - Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport)

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