Friday, May 17, 2019

Two months after ‘opening’, Basant Lok market still a patchwork of repairs

Ms. Vibha Sharma | TNN  | May 16, 2019

NEW DELHI: The revamped Basant Lok Market in south Delhi was inaugurated on March 5. And yet, there is hardly a sense of things being all right there. The parking area is yet to be tiled, the two entrances opposite Munirka Marg haven’t been refurbished, the lanes at the back aren’t finished and neither the installing of the tensile umbrella at the open amphitheatre and the fire hydrants nor the construction of the toilet block have been done.

Five days before the model code of conduct kicked in after the announcement of the general elections two months ago, Union minister for housing and urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri had inaugurated the so-called restored market. The shop owners today claim that progress on the project slowed down after that, leaving over 25% of the planned work pending.

The revamp work began in September 2018 and Delhi Development Authority was to have finished the project by March 2019. “DDA did construct an amphitheatre, reorganised the public spaces and put in tree guards and steel benches, while also providing pedestrian connectivity with Vasant Vihar metro station,” a shop owner said, requesting anonymity. “But the internal lanes next to the PVR complex remain dug up. Likewise, the water tank hasn’t been done nor the surfacing of the parking lot near Munirka Marg.”

Traders also alleged compromises in the quality of work and the non-inclusion of features such as disabled-friendly aids. “The tactile paving and the granite stones have already started eroding, and the construction debris still lying around, giving the market a shoddy look,” grumbled a trader.

A DDA official refuted the allegations. “It’s not true that the pace of work slowed down after the inauguration. In fact, we are making all effort to ensure quality of construction,” he said. “It will take us 3-4 months more to take care of the pending work.  The tensile umbrella, for instance, is 14 metres high and heavy and needs a proper base. That’s why we had to conduct a soil test before its designing and fabrication.”

The official also claimed to have earmarked space for vendors relocated from the main pathways and provided water connection from the tank to the hydrants. “The market, once revamped, will be the first fire-compliant commercial complex in Delhi,” he said.

The official also said that provisions for ramps were made at three places in market after inviting an NGO for to give suggestions for making the market place disabled-friendly. Svayam, the NGO working for uplift of persons with disabilities, however, isn’t happy. Its director Subhash Chandra Vashishth said, “Contrary to its plan for ramps at eight of the 10 entrances, we saw ramps only a couple of locations when we visited the market in March. Also, the verandah outside shops is uneven and could hamper movement of the disabled.”

Vashishth added that Svayam filed complaints about the “irregularities in the project plan” with minister Puri, lieutenant governor Anil Baijal and the chief commissioner for persons with disability. “The court has also taken cognizance of the matter and issued a show cause notice to DDA,” said Vashishth.

The market, constructed in the 1970s, was a popular shopping complex but lost out to the multiplexes and malls that came up in its vicinity. Neglected maintenance and decaying infrastructure led outlets of major brands to down shutters and migrate to the malls at Vasant Kunj and Saket. “In 2008, a newly formed traders’association took up the matter of the market’s restoration problems to the lieutenant governor, and finally Rs 10 crore was allocation for the project,” a shopkeeper disclosed.

Source: Times of India 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

In Delhi, making elections accessible for the differently-abled

Ms. Vangmayi Parakala | The Hindu | May 10, 2019 

On voting day on Sunday, Svayam offers mobility solutions to the disabled across the city. 

“The fight is tight. Each vote matters,” says Sminu Jindal, reiterating the messaging we’ve all heard many times almost every election season. But this year, she’s attempted to follow through on this. Her organisation, Svayam, has partnered with NGOs in Delhi’s South, West, and South-West constituencies to ensure that people with mobility problems aren’t hindered from exercising their franchise.

Access for all
“Accessibility isn’t and shouldn’t be a concern only for disability rights activists,” Jindal stresses adding that you needn’t be elderly or disabled to benefit from better thought-out public transportation and spaces: you can be a young athlete who’s injured and on a wheelchair, or you can be in the last trimester of your pregnancy.

Polling is usually held in government buildings like the local municipal school, meaning that by law, these will be accessible spaces, with at least the basic provision of ramps. The problem though, is in getting to these booths.

Through its partner organisations, Svayam has deputed wheelchair-friendly vans that will shuttle people to and from their voting booths, should they need them. In 2017, the organisation had already donated 10 such vans to different NGOs across the country. Of these, four vans have stayed in the city, with Astha, Muskaan, Family of Disabled, and Yes We Can. This year, they’ve added two new vans to this existing entourage, also working with the Election Commission of India to ensure that booths have what the polling body calls “Assured Minimum Facilities.”

Key partnership
After surviving a crash that left her paralysed from the wasit down when she was 11 years old, Jindal has been an active advocate for accessibility. She calls the government Svayam’s “most important partner,” recalling a two-decade-old association through which they’ve partnered and consulted on projects. This includes regular audits, training, and design interventions at various sites.

Starting 2006, they worked with the Archaeological Survey of India to make heritage sites like the Qutub Minar, Fatehpur Sikri and the Taj Mahal friendly for tourists with reduced mobility. Later, they were a part of the core committee set up to harmonise construction standards for the elderly and disabled. Today, they routinely conduct sensitisation and training sessions with staff at the Delhi International Airport Limited.

But it was in June 2018 that the Election Commission of India invited Svayam to be a partner on the National Consultation on Accessible Elections, stating that this “will pave the way for evolving the National Policy document on Inclusion of PwDs [Persons with Disabilities] in Electoral Process.” Svayam specifically made 20 recommendations at this meet, including the need to allow service animals and guide dogs to enter booths.

“The ECI has been very positive this time. The only major challenge is to standardise these guidelines across the country,” says Subhash Chandra Vashishth, Director of Svayam, adding that close to 13 pointers in their recommendations have been accepted and implemented this year.

Source: The Hindu

Thursday, July 5, 2018

American Firm to pay $100,000 to Ashok Pai, an Indian-origin employee over Discrimination Lawsuit

New Delhi, 4th July 2018

Here is an important case law from USA wherein an American firm will end up paying $100,000 (One lac US Dollars) to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of an Indian-origin employee, the agency said on July 2. 

Federal contractor Camber Corporation was accused of violating federal law when it denied a transfer to employee Mr. Ashok Pai based on his son's medical condition and then fired him.  Such alleged behaviour violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the EEOC said in its suit. Besides a $100,000 award for lost wages, the two-year decree entered by U.S. District Court Judge Anthony J. Trenga to resolve the case includes injunctive relief to prevent disability and age discrimination from occurring at the company in the future.

According to the EEOC, Pai's son sustained serious injuries in a car accident as a child, due to which he has been disabled for more than 25 years. Pai sought a transfer to work nearer to where his son lived and requested leave to assist with his care. However, after the management learned that Pai was seeking a transfer to take care of his son, Camber classified him as "resigned," began processing termination paperwork and ultimately fired him for pretextual reasons, the EEOC said. Pai, who was then in his mid-60s, was subsequently replaced by someone over 20 years younger than him.

Camber Corporation is headquartered in Huntsville, Ala. The discrimination against Pai took place in Falls Church, Va., where he worked. The EEOC filed its suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

"When employers violate the law, the EEOC will hold them accountable. We are pleased that the parties were able to reach a resolution to better protect the rights of employees under federal law," EEOC regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement.

"The ADA not only prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities, it also bans discrimination against employees and applicants based on their association with a person with a disability - for good reasons," Washington Field Office Acting Director Mindy Weinstein said. "Mr. Pai simply asked for a transfer to help deal with his son's severe disability, and the company made a bad situation worse by punishing him for trying to do the right thing and showing age bias at the same time. The EEOC is here to fight for the rights of people like Ashok Pai."

Other Media Reports:

1. NDTV 
3. The Telegraph

Monday, June 18, 2018

Jeeja's Child adoption story raises hopes for many others

Jeeja Ghosh - is another name for perseverance and doggedness when it comes to fighting out for rights.  And she has shown it once again that if you stand for what is right, perseverance pays.

Jeeja, a fellow disability rights activist has been married for around five years now. Resident of Ballygunge she has broken many ceilings and has had many firsts. The 48-year-old added one more to the list last week, becoming the first person born with cerebral palsy in Kolkata — and possibly India — to become an adoptive mom.
Jeeja Ghosh with Hiya (adopted daughter)
(Source- Facebook)

Motherhood was a dream that Jeeja, born with the disabling condition, nursed since she tied the knot in 2013. But little did she know about the hurdles she would have to face before being considered fit for adopting a five-month-old girl. On 7th June 2018, after an epic struggle, Jeeja welcomed home a girl child — lovingly called Bhujungu and Sonai at home — to her ninth-floor flat at the Saptaparni complex on Ballygunge Circular Road.

Jeeja, a Presidency College graduate and Delhi University postgraduate, and her husband, Bappaditya Nag, a law officer at Syndicate Bank, applied for adoption in 2016. Madhusmita Nayak, programme manager for the specialized adoption agency project at Keonjhar’s Self-Realisation Mission (SRM), from where the child was adopted, said the baby was born in January 2018 and was abandoned at a Keonjhar hospital. “We don’t know about her biological parents,” Nayak said.

It was love at first sight for the couple when they saw the yet-unnamed child at SRM. But it needed multiple trips to Keonjhar to convince the adoption committee that Jeeja could be a responsible care-giver. “We submitted a fit certificate from a gynecologist but even after that the committee told us this certificate was not acceptable because it had to be issued by a ‘medical practitioner’,” Nag said.

It was an uphill struggle since then and, after numerous mails and reminders, the couple finally escalated the matter to Dr Sadaf Nazneen, consultant (eastern region), Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).

On Tuesday, Dr Sadaf Nazneen, of CARA told TOI, “It needs to be checked whether the couple is emotionally, physically and financially suitable to adopt a child. This was the first case where a parent with cerebral palsy was keen on adoption. It will remain as a reference point for other such applications in future. Some questions might have seemed uncomfortable but they were perhaps asked to judge the suitability of the family adopting the baby.”

Jeeja Ghosh and her husband, however, do not buy this argument. “I felt so humiliated with the questions they asked. The district child protection officer described cerebral palsy as a ‘mental disease’ and expressed apprehensions about my communication skills. I fail to understand how someone in that position can have such ideas,” Ghosh alleged.

TOI spoke to the officer, Debangana Barik, who said she “did not want to hurt” Ghosh at all. “My language issue might have created a problem. I am very impressed with her personality and she is completely fit to take care of the baby. Her adoption case is a success story for all of us here,” Barik added. But the new parents’ legal work is still not over. Bhujungu is, legally, in Ghosh’s and Nag’s foster care right now. “We are going to file a court application in Keonjhar soon and, within 60 days of that, we expect to get the order that will make us her legal parents,” Ghosh said.

The Saptaparni flat has undergone a sea change, with nappies, oil cloth and feeding bottles strewn all over the drawing room. Both parents are on leave now. Bhujungu has a twinkle in her eyes when Jeeja rocks the pram. She tilts her head and then lazily rests her little toes on the pram handle. Friends and relatives are dropping by regularly with cartloads of gifts for the little one. Nag, too, is a complete hands-on father, from feeding Bhujungu to cleaning her when she soils herself. Ghosh’s octogenarian mother, a dementia patient, is thrilled. Seated in a wheelchair close to the pram, she intermittently utters the baby’s name aloud. On rare occasions, when memory serves her right, seeing Ghosh and her daughter is a reminder for the old lady of her own motherhood tales of fighting against odds to bring up a daughter.

Jeeeja's successful adoption of a child has set a benchmark and given hope to several persons with disabilities that they, too, can become parents.

Times of India, Kolkata 13 June 18: Kolkata woman may be first with cerebral palsy to adopt a baby
Times of India, Kolkata 14 June 18: Disabled persons see beacon of hope in Jeeja adoption story

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

No funds for new projects that don't include accessibility features in buildings - says Finance Minstry

Dear Colleagues,

In a welcome initiative, the Finance Ministry has, in compliance with Section 40 & 44 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which are reproduced below,  made it mandatory for all new projects to include accessibility features in the costing of the total project cost when proposals are sent for expenditure finance committee approvals. No funds will be release for projects that don't include accessibility components. 

"40. Accessibility.—The Central Government shall, in consultation with the Chief Commissioner, formulate rules for persons with disabilities laying down the standards of accessibility for the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas.

44. Mandatory observance of accessibility norms.—(1) No establishment shall be granted permission to build any structure if the building plan does not adhere to the rules formulated by the Central Government under section 40.
(2) No establishment shall be issued a certificate of completion or allowed to take occupation of a building unless it has adhered to the rules formulated by the Central Government"

The department of expenditure has directed all ministries to include “special measures proposed to meet needs of persons with disabilities, including accessibility requirements under the Right of Persons with Disabilities Act” in new construction projects.  The measures would be included in all inter-ministerial consultation notes and in the final expenditure finance committee (EFC) note. In the format of EFC notes for appraisal of schemes, the department of expenditure amended its earlier guidelines to include an additional para. 

This comes into immediate effect. The ministries/ departments are requested to accordingly circulate EFC memos for inter-ministerial consultations after incorporating measures to meet needs of persons with disabilities,” the amended guideline directed. 

The department of empowerment of persons with disabilities (DEPwD) has been pushing for this inclusion for some time. Speaking to ET, DEPwD joint secretary Dolly Chakraborty said, “Any new construction project – like a flyover where pedestrian crossings are being planned or overbridges or a new government building – would now have in-built accessibility features. Harmonised guidelines have been issued to have common features. Now it would be mandatory to include these within the planning stage.” .. This, Chakraborty said, would help to make physical environment more accessible as retrofitting later has always been a financial and design challenge.