Thursday, March 21, 2024

Punjab & Haryana HC seeks report from three Govts on accessibility of judicial complexes to persons with disabilities [Interim order included]

Court: Punjab and Haryana High Court at Chandigarh
Bench: Justice Gurmeet Singh Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji
Case No.: CWP-PIL-56-2024
Case Title: Court on its Own Motion vs. High Court of Punjab and Haryana, Chandigarh
Date of Hearing & Interim Order: 21 March 2024
NDOH: 16 April 2024


The present petition was listed before the division bench on account of a reference made by the learned Single Judge Justice Harpreet Singh Brar, to provide appropriate infrastructure to make judicial complexes across the States of Punjab, Haryana and U.T., Chandigarh accessible to persons with disabilities, in public interest, keeping in mind the provisions of Sections 44, 45 and 46 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.

Taking a suo motu cognizane of the lack of infrastructure in judicial complexes which may be inaccessible to persons with disabilities in Punjab, Haryana and U.T. Chandigarh the division bench of Acting Chief Justice GS Sandhawalia and Justice Lapita Banerji on 21 Mar 2024 sought a status report from the Governments of Punjab, Haryana and U.T. Chandigarh on the accessibility status of judicial complexes to persons with disabilities. 

The division bench asked the Governments whether there is compliance with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 in the infrastructure of Judicial complexes in various court complexes of districts and High Court.

The matter was referred to the bench on a plea was filed by a 60-year-old disabled lady who sought transfer of her case at District Court Punjab's Malerkotla, from the first floor to the ground floor as the judicial complex did not have any provision for a ramp or an elevator to facilitate a disabled person to attend the Court proceedings.

The right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India is not limited to mere animal-like existence but includes the right to live a meaningful life, with dignity in the truest sense of the term. Absence of appropriate facilities in public buildings, especially judicial complexes, equates to a denial of access to justice and amounts to discrimination against persons with disabilities.

The State has been reminded of its obligation to create a level playing field and provide all necessary facilities to realize the fundamental rights guaranteed to its citizens by the Constitution, including the right to move freely across the territory of India. The next date of hearing is scheduled for 16 April 2024, where the State is expected to file a special affidavit concerning the District Court of Malerkotla.

This case is a testament to the judiciary’s proactive role in safeguarding the rights of the disabled and ensuring that justice is accessible to all, regardless of physical limitations. It serves as a reminder that the pursuit of justice must be inclusive and accommodating to the needs of every citizen.

The order though restricts to seeking status on provisions of lifts and ramps, thus leaving out a huge gamut under the accessibility domain that includes, parking, signage and orientation, tactile maps, TGSIs, colour contrasts, floor surface, accesssible toilets, emergency evacuation for people with disabilities, sign language interpretation for deaf litigants and lawyers, braille and ICT Access for persons with vision impairments among others. 

The court should ideally call for a proper access audit of all the district courts in the two states and the UT of Chandigarh from empanelled access auditors of Govt. of India and follow up until the access recommendations  are implemented in toto. We have already delayed the accessibility mandate as the law provided for 5 year time frame for buildings that expired in 2022.

Read the interim order dated 21 March 2024 below: