Sunday, May 8, 2022

67 per cent Indian Court Complexes report they are not accessible to Persons with Disabilities.

 Dear colleagues,

The Hon'ble Supreme Court (SC) directions on 15th Dec 2017 came as a shot in arm for the efforts to make public places and builidngs accessible for persons with disabilities. But when the Supreme Court Registry compiled a report (based on the self reporting by the courts and not based on access audits by professional access auditors), that indicates only 33% court complexes claiming to be accessible and a whopping 67% court complexes are still defying the law of the land to allow equal participation and access to justice for persons with disabilities and those with age related impairments.

On January 15, 2019, Hon'ble SC had said, "More than a year has passed since the judgment was delivered. The indifferent attitude of the States and the Union Territories shows that they are not serious in complying with the directions contained in the judgment... We take strong exception to the lackluster attitude." It had given three weeks to the states and Union Terriroties (UTs) to implement its December 2017 judgment directions.

At a time when an extreme heatwave has gripped the country, judicial officers in 83% of courtrooms are sweating it out to read through bundles of case files and hear heated arguments from lawyers. For, only 17% of courtrooms have air-conditioning facilities as per the SC report. 

But, these are not the only reasons why Chief Justice of India (CJI) N V Ramana had vigorously pushed for a state level judicial infrastructure development authority, which fortunately struck a chord with the Chief ministers and the Chief Justices of the High Courts. However, Justice Ramana's proposal for a national level judicial infrastructure development authority has been pegged back for further discussions.

In a communication to the Union government, the CJI had highlighted the abysmal condition of the court complexes across the country. Toilets, essential to ameliorate pressing daily needs of lawyers and litigants, are absent in 16% of the court complexes. As many as 26% of the court complexes have no washroom facilities for women. The condition of existing toilets in most court complexes in semi-urban areas, visited by hundreds of litigants and lawyers, is nauseating.

The other deficiencies in court complexes are equally concerning: 

  • 95% of court complexes are not equipped with even basic medical facilities; 
  • 46% do not have purified drinking water facilities; 
  • 73% of courtrooms do not have computers placed on the judges' dais with video-conferencing facilities; 
  • 68% courtrooms have no separate record rooms, and, 
  • 49% of court complexes have no library.

The states need to focus on the mandate of accessibility in judicial buildings and forums so that not just physical access to amenitiess but websites, filing and pleadings, procedures, litigation could also becomee accessible to people with disabilities- whether as a judicial officer, lawyer, prosecutor, staff, litigant, witness or victim. Access to justice needs to be enssured through a coordinated effort. The Court infrastructure has its unique requirements as the hospital infrastracuture has and the public works departments or the architects, contractors and builders that are engaged for making these provisions needs to have an understanding of accessibility. Similarly the ICT infrastructure reqired at the judicial forums is also equally important that it conforms to the WCAG standards and the accessibility standards on Information and Communication Technology- for which the directions have been passed by the E-Committeee of the Supreme Court to all the High Courts of the Country. It is time to practice inclusion for real inclusion to happen. 

Related article: Times of India