PIL to make the Mumbai Suburban Railways accessible for persons with disabilities
India Centre for Human Rights & Law & Ors. vs. The Union of India & Ors. (PIL 27 of 2007) Synopsis: The Petition came to be filed seeking to make the Mumbai Suburban Railways accessible for persons with disabilities. Several of the petitioners themselves are persons with disabilities. It sought to enforce the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (to which India is a signatory and has ratified), as well as several guidelines framed by the Central and State Government from time to time for persons with disabilities, specifically the provisions pertaining to making the physical environment more accessible for persons with disabilities. Status: The matter has been directed to be listed once in three months so that the Court can monitor the compliance of the undertakings given by Railways pertaining to amenities to be provided for persons with disabilities at railway stations. Description: On the first date of hearing, the Court held that: “We consider this to be a matter of great importance that the Railway Platforms in a city like Bombay should be disabled friendly. It is not disputed before us by the learned counsel appearing for Respondent Nos.2 and 3. We see no reason why appropriate steps should not be taken by the concerned Authority to ensure that all Railway Platforms in the city of Bombay should be disabled friendly. ...It is the statutory obligation on the part of the Respondents to ensure providing disabled friendly Railway Platforms in the city of Bombay.” Several orders have been passed in this matter in the last 10 years that have seen the Suburban Railway lines (Western, Central and Harbour) in Mumbai become increasingly more accessible for persons with disabilities. This includes the provisions of tactile indicators for persons with visual disabilities, ramps for persons with locomotor disabilities, beepers for persons with hearing disabilities ,railings along the staircases and foot over bridges etc. Several accessibility audits have been conducted by us with the assistance of the Petitioners from time to time which have revealed the poor state of affairs and the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities at railway stations, pursuant to which the Bombay High Court has passed several orders directing the Government to ensure that provisions are made and that this is done so in a time-bound manner. Although it has been slow, considerable progress has been made both in terms of sensitising the government and the judiciary of the issues faced by persons with disabilities.For instance, in the first affidavit filed by the Central Railway it was stated that- “Normally major changes in network, which may cause inconvenience to major potion of passengers are opposed by Passenger Association. -Additional separate provision for handicapped within the existing system is not feasible -It may not be feasible to give separate counters for han-dicapped passengers” The Western Railways stated similar difficulties- “Construction of ramp at 1:12 gradient will lead to more congestion and lead to resentment amongst the passengers and also invite public complaints. -Toilet facility cannot be provided at the entrance of local station due to congestion and heavy flow of passengers’ traffic. Therefore, the suggestion given cannot be implemented. -The ticket counter especially for handicapped persons is not possible at suburban stations due to space constraint. It is also seen that there is heavy rush at all the counters of suburban station. If one counter will be provided especially for handicapped persons, the same will lead to public complaints.” After several directions by the Court, the Railways agreed to make changes as per the guidelines prepared by the RDSO on ‘Amenities to be provided at Railway Stations and other public buildings for persons with disabilities” (1998). It was urged by the railways that they would take steps to implementation of the guidelines only within the scope of the policy directives of the Railway Board. However this was rejected by the Court. However, by its order dated 15th March, 2012, the Court held that- “In a Public Interest Litigation it is open to the parties to make suggestions for modifying or adding the guidelines prepared by the Government or an organization like RDSO. The petitioners also claim to have benefit of the services of experts who may make valuable suggestions for modifying/improving the designs of the facilities like toilets, ticket windows and other amenities to be provided at the Railway Stations. We, therefore, see no reason to accept the request as made in the praecipe dated 14 March 2012. ...Having said so, we do appreciate that the Convener of the Meeting (Chief Commercial Manager) may have some limitations on his power and obviously he may be bound to act within the policy directives of the Railway Board. That, however, should not deter this Court from permitting the non-official members of the Committee to make suggestions as they consider appropriate, for modification/ improvement of their designs for amenities like toilets, ticket windows and other amenities & facilities” In 2013 revised guidelines for Passenger Amenities for Persons with Disabilities was published by the Railway Board. The Court directed both the Central and Western Railway to make changes at railway stations in accordance with the said guidelines in a time-bound manner. After several revisions were sought in the outer-limit to complete the work by the Railways, vide order dated 7th April, 2016 the Court directed the General Managers of both the Central and Western Railways to personally monitor the progress and ensure that the target given to the Divisional Commissioners was complied with. Accordingly undertakings were produced by the Railways setting out the names of the officers who would be personally responsible for carrying out the work. Vide the said order the concerned officers on whom, a responsibility has been fixed were directed to file an additional undertakings setting out the timeline for completion of the said work. In the said order it was noted that- “The Government of India through its Ministry of Railways by letter dated 6th June 2013 has circulated revised guidelines on “passengers amenities for passengers/persons disabilities”. Needless to add that the undertakings which are tendered today will have to be read with the provisions of the said revised guidelines and the compliance will have to be made by the Railways in terms of the said Guidelines. We may also clarify that the successors of the officers who have tendered the undertakings will be bound by the same undertakings. Before the successors of the officers assume charge of their respective posts, they shall be informed about the undertakings which are filed on record.” The matter was subsequently listed in October 2016, when the court, on the basis of undertakings given by both the Western and Central Railways that they would accept any deficiencies pointed out by the Petitioners without any demur, directed the Petitioners to conduct an accessibility assessment on the Mumbai Suburban Railway Stations Further readings suggested:
- Railways duty bound to provide facilities for the disbaled- http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/reality-check-at-railway-stations-for-accessibility-to-physically-challenged-4365070/
- Mumbai suburban network- 98% stations dangerous to differently abled, senior citizens- http://indianexpress.com/article/india/mumbai-suburban-network-98-stations-dangerous-to-differently-abled-senior-citizens-4538864/
- Article covering the Accessiblity assessment - http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/reality-check-at-railway-stations-for-accessibility-to-physically-challenged-4365070/
- Summary of Findings (Assessment of Accessibility of Mumbai Suburban Railway Stations for Persons with Disabilities and Senior Citizens)
- The undertakings of the General Managers of both the Central and Western Railways were taken on record. The undertakings fixed the time-line for completion of work and names of the officers who would be personally responsible for ensuring that the work was completed.
- The undertakings were directed to be read along with the revised guidelines on passenger amenities for passengers/ persons with disabilities, 2013.
- It was noted that the compliance will have to be made by the railways in terms of the said guidelines.
- It was clarified that the successors of the officers who tendered the undertakings would be bound by the same undertakings.
- To ensure that the undertakings are bided by, the matter was directed to be listed on board after a gap of every three months so that the Court can monitor the compliances of the undertakings and the compliances of the said revised guidelines. Order dated 5th October, 2016
- Affidavits came to be filed by the Western and Central Railways stating that it will be open for the Petitioner to examine the facilities provided on the Western, Central and Trans-harbour lines in presence of the officers nominated by the Railways. An undertaking was given that whatever deficiencies are pointed out by the Petitioner, they shall be accepted by both the Railways without any demur.
- The said undertakings were accepted by the Court vide its order dated 5th October, 2016 and accordingly the Petitioners were directed to conduct an accessibility assessment. The Petitioners were directed to submit periodical reports to the Railways, and an exhaustive report was directed to be submitted by 12th January, 2017.
- It was stated that if any deficiencies are mentioned in the said reports, without raising any dispute, the Railways will have to take care of those deficiencies.