Chennai: It may have won the Sustainia Award for coming up with the solution of wide footpaths for safe walking and biking but the corporation of Chennai would fail if it was audited for creating barrier-free access for the differently-abled.
Strikingly though, the civic body thinks it is unnecessary to allocate a portion of budget spend on providing civic infrastructure for the differently-abled, considering the corporation is primarily a body which exists to improve civic infrastructure.
“It is not necessary to allocate ‘x’ amount of sum but that doesn’t mean we will not spend on constructing ramps, handrails and other such disabled-friendly infrastructure,” noted a senior official. However, the local administration’s standpoint is in stark contrast to what other global cities do.
European cities like London, Paris, Berlin, Salzburg and Vienna to name a few, and even Singapore in Asia, spend an apportioned sum year-on-year towards making their city barrier free. For a city which is aspiring for the smart city tag, Chennai corporation’s stand on the issue puzzles Jawaharlal Shanmugam, former chief administrator of Sri Ramachandra Medical College. Last week, the first bench of the Madras high court, hearing Shanmugam’s petition on barrier free access in hospitals, criticised the government for its failings.
“In Australian, every wheelchair bound person can move around independently. In Chennai, even the normal person will fall off a footpath. It is unfortunate that in this country disabled persons are made to feel alienated,” he said. T.M.N. Deepak, vice president of The Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Federation said this situation persists despite India being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The convention describes disability as an evolving concept which “...results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis...”
“The attitudinal barriers exist because the bureaucracy thinks the differently-abled are a diminishing community,” Deepak said. Per the 2011 census, there were 2.08 crore households which had diff-abled members in the family.
“A smart city would need universal design. It has been suggested in the National Building Code of India. But then again, since we are the invisible minorities, none of this will ever matter to authorities,” Deepak added.
Even the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities argues for barrier-free access. “The goal of barrier free design is to provide an environment that supports the independent functioning of individuals so that they can participate without assistance...,” the policy reads.
State Commissioner, Welfare of Differently Abled Persons, Dr. K. Manivasan, told DC that there has been a “lot of improvement” in recent years with regards to welfare of the differently-abled.
“However, this (budget allocation) requires a policy level change,” Manivasan said and added that the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 does not have provisions to do it.
“There are also practical obstacles like old buildings where creating barrier free access is difficult but at least basic things like ramps and disabled-friendly toilets are available in several government buildings,” he added.
However, state secretary of Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC), S. Namburajan, negated Manivasan’s claim.
“Till today, the secretariat complex is not barrier-free. The security team is negligent to the plight of differently-abled members as some of them even tell us that we can just leave if we would complain about the barriers. Attitudes should change and budgetary allocations should happen. Until then, any scheme announced for the welfare of differently-abled will be a non-starter and a mere eyewash,” Namburajan said.