Accessibility Still A Major Challenge For Differently-Abled In Guwahati
GUWAHATI: Even as the central government had set the timeline for implementing the Accessible India Campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan by 2016, Guwahati is still lagging behind in implementing the scheme.
Differently-abled persons residing in Guwahati feel that the city has a long way to go in terms of infrastructure before it becomes friendly for them. They say that lack of accessibility is a huge challenge due to which they are unable to navigate public spaces with ease.
A lot of public institutions and important government offices lack the required infrastructure to support persons with disabilities. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, provides for statutory requirements to provide barrier-free environment to persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. However, many government buildings and public places continue to violate the provisions of the Act.
Nripen Malakar, secretary of Pratibandi Suraksha Sangstha, Assam (PSSA), an NGO which works for the rights of differently-abled persons, told G Plus, “We have requested the commissioner for persons with disabilities in Assam to ensure that the Accessible India campaign is properly implemented in Assam at the earliest so as to provide some relief to us.”
He added, “If a person is unable to even enter a majority of government offices since they don’t have ramps or railings, then what is the use?”
Another member of PSSA mentioned that ironically even the office of directorate of social welfare in Guwahati, which is responsible for implementation of the campaign in the state, is not sufficiently equipped with facilities for differently-abled.
Speaking about footpaths being another major cause for concern for visually impaired pedestrians, Malakar said that tactile paving or textured tiles are needed on footpaths to guide visually impaired persons but some of the footpaths which have been recently constructed in Guwahati do not have them.
He added that the commissioner for persons with disabilities had also recently written to the PWD department to ensure that the footpaths have the required tactile paving.
Accessibility work is yet to begin in important government buildings like Assam Secretariat, office of the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup Metro; Assam Public Service Commission, Aaykar Bhawan, Administrative Staff College, Gauhati High Court and Gauhati University.
Audit undertaken, infrastructure work pending
The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) had launched the nation-wide Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan) for achieving universal accessibility for persons with disabilities. It aims to provide accessible physical environment benefits not just for persons with disabilities but for everyone.
It provides for undertaking measures to eliminate obstacles and barriers to indoor and outdoor facilities including schools, medical facilities and workplaces. These would include buildings, footpaths, curb cuts, and obstacles that block the flow of pedestrian traffic.
An accessible government building is defined as one where persons with disabilities have no barrier in entering it and using all the facilities therein. This covers the built environment – services, steps and ramps, corridors, entry gates, emergency exits, parking – as well as indoor and outdoor facilities that include lighting, signages, alarm systems and toilets.
The central government had set the target to implement the campaign in Guwahati and several other cities across India by July 2016. It mentioned that an accessibility audit would be conducted of at least 50 most important government buildings which would be converted into fully accessible buildings by July 2016.
For this Shishu Sarothi, a Guwahati-based NGO, had conducted an audit of several government buildings in the city and had submitted their report to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Some of the audited buildings include Assam Secretariat, office of the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup Metro; Assam Public Service Commission, Aaykar Bhawan, Administrative Staff College, Gauhati High Court and Gauhati University among others.
However, the deputy director of the social welfare department, Satyendra Deori, told G Plus that the accessibility work is yet to begin for the same.
4% reservation for differently-abled in higher education
One of the long pending demands of the differently-abled persons in the state was that regarding their jobs, they should be given 4% reservation in the 4,419 posts meant for persons with disabilities that are lying vacant. They informed that as per the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, 4% reservation for persons with disabilities should be provided for by the government.
In this regard following several complaints from persons with disabilities, the commissioner of persons with disabilities had written to the directorate of higher education, to provide reservation for jobs for them.
Following this, the directorate of higher education has now asked all the colleges to implement the provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
Differently-abled persons have carried out several protests in the past for their long-pending demands. Some of these included Rs 1,000 as monthly allowance, which was announced by the state government last year. The officials had informed last year that registration for the beneficiaries had already begun.
This apart, they have also been demanding for pension benefits and free housing facilities to be given to differently-abled people of the state.
- Accessible India Campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan