Supreme Court Directs Important Steps Forward In Accessibility For Persons With Disabilities in Public Places

In a far-reaching judgment on Friday, December 15, the Supreme Court passed a slew of directions to the central and state governments to ensure that public infrastructure and facilities are accessible to persons with disabilities. The directions came in the matter of Rajive Raturi vs. Union of India, argued by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves of the Human Rights Law Network, assisted by advocates Sija Nair and Rajan Mani of the Disability Law Initiative. The Court directed that the governments come up with detailed reports and plans to make public buildings, airports, railway stations, public transport carriers, government websites and public documents accessible within three months and place the same before the Court for further directions. Advocates for the petitioners had submitted that the 1995 and 2016 Disabilities Acts mandated that there should be no discrimination towards persons with disabilities in the accessibility of built environment, roads, transport systems, and information and communications services. However, it was a matter of everyday experience that buildings accessed by the public, bus and railway stations, roads and bridges and public transport vehicles were not adapted for use by blind persons and wheelchair users. Likewise, information and communication services were not accessible to hearing impaired and visually impaired persons. In its status report filed before the Court, the central government said that under the Accessible India Campaign, several government buildings in 50 cities in India had been audited for compliance with accessibility norms, and funds had been released to retrofit these buildings for accessibility. Further, railway stations and airports had also been made accessible, and government web sites were being made compliant to accessibility standards. Advocates for the petitioners, however, pointed out that several of the government’s targets and deadlines had already been missed, and accessibility in airports, railways stations, public carriers and web sites was minimal. Accordingly, the petitioners sought several further directions from the Court. Accepting the petitioner’s submissions, the Court directed that accessibility audits of government buildings be completed by February 2018, and retrofitting of these buildings be completed in a staged manner by August 2018, December 2018, June 2019 and Dec 2019 respectively. The Court agreed with the Petitioner that the IIT Rourkee audit template was to be used to audit the airports and railways for accessibility by June 2018. The Court further directed that having regard to the directions sought by the Petitioner, the Government was to come up with detailed plans and reports to enhance the accessibility of the railways, airports, public transport carriers, government websites and public documents within three months.