Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Realising the dream of Barrier Free enviornment in Public Spaces


Dear Colleagues,

Its over one and a half decade when The Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act was passed in India with specific mandate under sections 44 and 46 that stipulated barrier-free accessibility for the disabled at public buildings. However, the sad story is that it is not in the priorities of the State Governments still to make their offices accessible. With impunity access to even social welfare sections/ pension sections/ public dealing offices continues to be through staircases rather than lifts/ ramps. In fact the entire office complex is supposed to be accessible if section 33 of the Act mandating 3% reservations in the jobs is to be respected and complied with in its true sense.

There exist guidelines from the office of Chief commissioner Disabilities titled "Plannning a Barrier Free Environment", CPWD's "Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free environment for Disabled and Elderly Persons" and also Model Building Bye-laws  of Town and Country Planning Organization (Min. of UD) incorporated by most of the states to ensure accessibility in the public places/buildings.  The National Building Code 2005 and its earlier versions mandated accessibility and barrier free environment in the public buildings. However, the government offices especially in the States continue to defy the norms.

To facilitate easy implementation and remove bottlenecks of funding, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has been giving project based funds to make public places accessible to the states/agencies. However, the states either seem to have not shown interest in this or are little too slow on acting on the funding scheme available.

Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India which is the nodal ministry to ensure a barrier free environment had started this initiative by getting the access audits done through competent agencies for the union government buildings in Delhi and in other major cities and also the satellite towns. The next phase of implementation of the access audit reports is in progress in the Capital and several states. 

For implementation of Section 46 of the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995, the State Governments have nominated an official in each district (designated as Access Officers/ Inspectors  )for bringing cases of non-compliance to the notice of the concerned authorities in addition to the office of State Commissioner- Disabilities whose mandate is to see the implementation of the said act.  It has been found that often the nominated official/Access officer has no knowledge of the barrier free environment. Often their powers/scope of duties is not properly indicated and it is either just an additional charge given to them.

The State governments- barring a few like Goa etc - have not taken sincere initiatives to ensure accessibility in their buildings and public services- which also include access to information. Most websites of the state governments and even some union ministries continue to be inaccessible for the visually impaired users and those with mental challenges. 

This calls for alternate remedies and a strict and time bound implementation of the mandate. The Chief Commissioner - Disabilities at the Centre has been very pro-active in issuing notices to the Government departments, universities, post offices and banks etc to ensure their buildings and services accessible. However, the State commissioners have been little lethargic on this front.

Suggested measures

(a) State Commissioners should on their own motion or on receipt of complaint/ information take immediate action to ensure that the flouting department provides accessibility in a time bound manner. More stakeholders should approach the State Commissioners for persons with disabilities, a list of which is available at link : STATE COMMISSIONERS-DISABILITIES. On how to write a complaint/grievance visit link: Writing a Petition for your Grievance.

(b) State Governments should be directed to provide a dedicated office of the nominated official in each district called as "Access Officers/ Access Inspectors" and provide their coordinates on the State Government Website/ District Collector's website with phone numbers, email ids, FAX etc. These access officers/inspectors should be provided sufficient staff at block level/ panchayats who should inspect the existing buildings to ensure they are accessible. Their duty should also involve giving recommendations on the building plans of the new buildings. The Access officers should either give their nod/or reject with reasons within a fixed time period. No buildings should be allowed to be built without a clearance from the access officer. 

(c) More NGOs/ user groups, stakeholders, family members should be encouraged to bring the cases of inaccessible public buildings to the notice of access officers/disability commissioners.

(d) The Access Officers/ Commissioner- Disabilities should be trained and sensitized on creation of barrier free environment. All new joinees on these posts should undergo the sensitization.

(e) If the state has not adopted the model building bye-laws, the existing guidelines by the Union Government/ Chief Commissioner - Disabilities should prevail in such cases.

With these measures, I am sure we can achieve much more than just sitting and criticizing the non-implementation of the PWD Act 1995.  

Here is one news report from Jharkhand published in The Telegraph talking about inaccessibility of the Collector's office, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. 


Built on crippled common sense

lt on crippled common sense
- Collectorate degrades disability act with staircases

ANIMESH BISOEE
Visually impaired Sonali Pal (35) from Uliyan Kadma nearly fell on December 22, 2012, on the staircase of the first floor of the district collectorate while going to submit a memorandum of protest against the Delhi bus rape before East Singhbhum deputy commissioner (DC) Himani Pande

When orthopaedically challenged Deepak Kumar Srivastava (31), secretary of Jharkhand Viklang Sansthan, has to meet officials such as deputy development commissioner (DDC) Dadan Choubey in the course of his work, he climbs steep stairs using crutches to reach the first floor of the district collectorate

On an average, around 10 disabled persons who visit the East Singhbhum district collectorate office a day, know what it is like to feel like second-class citizens.
The three-storey (G+2) collectorate building in Sakchi, Jamshedpur, does not offer accessibility to the disabled.

Even though the structure came up in 2003, eight years after Persons with Disabilities (equal opportunities, protection of rights and full participation) Act with sections 44 and 46 that stipulated barrier-free accessibility for the disabled at public buildings, staircases and not ramps were the only links between floors.

According to conservative estimates of a Jharkhand Viklang Manch survey, nearly six per cent of the total 22-lakh-plus population of East Singhbhum district comprises the disabled.
It appears a sizeable population of 1.32 lakh can’t access their own district collectorate without feeling humiliated and risking a fall.

Most senior bureaucrats, including DC Himani Pande, additional deputy commissioner Ganesh Prasad, additional district magistrate (law and order) Ajay Shanker, DDC Dadan Choubey, executive magistrate Sunil Kumar and others, have offices at the district collectorate.

These apart, important departments including social welfare, DRDA, welfare, district information office and nazarat deputy commissioner office are also located in the same building.

Manch president Arun Kumar Singh said they had submitted petitions to all deputy commissioners from 2006 onwards, protested twice in front of the district collectorate and written to former state commissioner (disability) Satish Chandra, but nothing happened.

“It seems our plight does not bother bureaucrats. Mounting stairs is a risk. Plus, it is a time-consuming and painful process. But there’s no way out at the district collectorate,” said Singh.

Former state commissioner (disability) Chandra — the post is vacant since December 2012 — admitted to receiving petitions from the disabled in Jamshedpur.

“I had taken up the issue of barrier-free accessibility. But nothing has been done so far,” Chandra said.

State social welfare director Krishna Prasad Dev Sahu agreed the problem was serious. “When a new commissioner (disability) is appointed, he will be entrusted with the task of ensuring that the disabled can access the district collectorate with ease,” said Sahu.

On being prodded, deputy commissioner Pande claimed they had asked the executive engineer of building construction department to prepare a blueprint for a ramp and guidelines tiles on staircases for visually challenged.

“We are planning these things. We will look into it,” she said without giving a deadline.

Source: The Telegraph

Tags:  Accessibility in Public Buildings and spaces, District Access Officers, Access Inspectors in States, Section 46 of PWD Act, Ministry of Urban Development, Commissioner Disabilities, 

1 comment:

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