Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Diverse Stakeholders Move Madras High Court in support of Accesssible Low Floor Buses - say, it also helps them - not just the disabled.

Kindly refer to our post dated 22 July 2022,  26 August 2022 on the subject of procurement of low floor accesssible buses in the State of Tamilnadu. Despite the Court directions, the State has been hell bent on arguing in favour of the high floor inaccessible buses that puts a large population of persons with disabilities in the state at a disadvantage and denying them their right to equality when it comes to public transportation. The state has been trying to argue that it would buy some percentage of buses as acessible low floor misinterpreting the Law of the land and citing reasons of floods and high costs of accesssible buses. 

The accessible low floor buses are not just an issue of disabled people alone. It impacts a large number of users of public transport such as women wearing saris, children, women who are family way, people of short stature. In fact, all persons feel safe when an accessible mode of transport is provided.

To support the case of demand for mandatory low floor accessible buses, a woman with mobility impairment on both her lower limbs, a 70-year-old lawyer with 44 years of standing in the Bar, a pregnant college student and a 68-year-old retired entrepreneur have moved Madras High Court through a public interest litigation, in support of a plea to ensure that all intra-city government buses are universally accessible. The PIL plea says that senior citizens, pregnant women and vendors also find it difficult to board the government buses, hencce the state needs to be directed to only purchase accessible low floor buses.

Acting Chief Justice T. Raja and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy on Monday granted time till December 21 for the Transport Department to respond to their petitions for impleading as parties in a public interest litigation (PIL) petition preferred by cross disability rights activist Vaishnavi Jayakumar of Chennai.

The activist had challenged a tender notification issued on October 10 for procuring 1,771 fully built non-AC diesel buses including 1,170 buses with a floor height of 900 mm. She contended that the law permits procurement of only low floor buses (400 mm) or with a maximum floor height of 650 mm with ramps/kneeling system/lifts for entry.

The Transport Department had already filed a counter affidavit stating that it would not be possible to ply only low floor buses in all cities unless and until the allied infrastructure, such as good roads, was fully in place. It also asserted that no law or court order had been violated in the recent tender notification.

However, in her affidavit in support of the impleading petition, P. Kavitha, a differently abled woman, said she was dependent on a pair of crutches and calipers for commuting from one place to another and that it was virtually impossible for her to either board or get down from buses with a floor height of 900 mm.

“The concentrated weight of the calipers on my lower limbs (which is around 4 kgs) makes the process of climbing the high steep steps extremely cumbersome and time consuming. As a result, I am often at the receiving end of my co-passengers’ irritation and impatience vis-à-vis holding up the bus,” she said.

She highlighted that inaccessibility of public transport affects the freedom of movement of persons with locomotor and other disabilities. The tender notification under challenge had been issued in callous disregard of the need for accessible public transport for the differently-abled individuals, she complained.

Advocate Sudha Ramalingam too wanted to implead herself as party in the case on the ground that high floor buses were nightmare to embark and disembark not only for the differently abled but also for the elderly dependent on public transport.

She said women with infants and young kids too find it difficult to access the high floor buses and that the fruit and flower vendors too struggle to get into the buses. Many had suffered injuries on the knees and legs while accessing the buses, she lamented and said, low floor buses were a fundamental requirement and not a luxury.

Similarly, T.S. Santhakumari, a 68-year-old retired entrepreneur, supported her view and said senior citizens with knee pain could not travel in government buses due to the very high floor height. She said that low floor buses would provide the elderly people the confidence and the joy of being able to travel without much difficulty.

Yet another impleading petitioner M.K. Divyadeshna, a 7-month pregnant college student, said, she had to travel from Tiruvallur to Guindy on a daily basis to pursue her studies. Government buses were the only affordable means of travel but the risk in travelling in them, due to their inaccessible nature, was beyond contemplation, she rued.

It is interesting to note as to how the state would cotinue to ignore the needs of a vast section of society misinterpreting the mandate of the accessibility law anchored in the Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016 and Rules made thereunder.

Related News: The Hindu.  

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