“Why are persons with disabilities being treated as invisible and non-existent?” Delhi High Court asks the Delhi Government
The Delhi High Court has prohibited the Government from purchasing standard floor buses for the Capital, in view of the standard floor buses being inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
A Writ Petition filed by Mr. Nipun Malhotra, founder of the Nipman Foundation, which is actively involved in the field of disability rights, challenged a Cabinet Decision of 01.09. 2017, for the acquisition of standard floor buses, alleging that this deprives the persons with disabilities as well as senior citizens from accessing public transport.
Appearing on behalf of the Petitioner, Advocate Jai Dehadrai submitted before the Hon'ble Court that even a single non-disabled friendly bus procured by the Delhi Government would be direct violation of the judgement delivered by Hon'ble Supreme Court in Rajive Raturi v. Union of India as well as the judgement delivered by the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi in Court on its Own Motion v. Union of India .
Accepting the submission of the petitioners, the Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar observed, “Procuring buses which are inaccessible to the disabled infracts the mandate of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 and the imperative and repeated directions of the Supreme Court not only is completely impermissible but also reflects callous apathy and gross indifference to environmental degradation as well as infringement of rights of the citizens of Delhi, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, to a clean and healthy environment. The actions of the respondents are in complete violation of the ‘Harmonious Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elder Persons’. It is also in violation of the right to road safety of the residents of Delhi as admitted by the respondents decades ago. The same is violative of the imperative directions of the Supreme Court in M.C. Mehta; Rajive Raturi and of this court in Court on its own Motion.”
On 14th May 2018, Senior Counsel Anand Grover, representing the Delhi Government, had assured the Court that no contract for standard floor buses would be awarded till the next date of hearing. The Delhi Government and the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) had now expressed difficulties in implementing the assurance and asked for permission to proceed with the acquisition of the buses.
The Court found it astonishing that despite the binding provisions of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, DTC sought to “avoid its responsibility” by placing reliance on the Code of Practice for Bus Body Design and Approval by the Automotive Standards Committee.
The Court also reprimanded the Delhi Government for not having taken any steps to make public transport accessible for persons with disabilities, observing, “The first writ petition is pending since September 2017. We have called upon the respondents repeatedly to place their proposals for procuring accessible transport. In almost eight months, the respondents have taken no steps to even commence the planning, let alone the tendering process. It is noteworthy that, in comparison the respondents are undertaking herculean efforts to procure the standard floor buses. Procuring of low floor buses by the respondents, therefore, seems to be a very remote possibility. It is certainly at the bottom of their priorities.”
The Court rejected the submission that the Government was only required to make 10% of the bus fleet accessible to the disabled. The Court noted that this position is a grave misreading of the Rajive Raturi judgment and the insistence on making only 10% of the bus fleet disabled friendly is highly improper and legally impermissible. The Court went on to observe that this submission underlines the reluctance of the respondents to acquire accessible transport and to comply with the law.
The Court observed that the Delhi Government, DTC are prohibited from acquiring any standard floor buses by the pronouncements of the Supreme Court of India; of this court as well as the statutory mandate contained in the ‘Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016’ as well as by the 'Harmonious Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elder Persons’ which bind them.
The Delhi High Court has, therefore, precluded the Delhi Government from procuring any standard floor buses, and listed the matter on 16 July 2018.