“Pull the brake chain and make a hue and cry when nothing else helps.” That is what advocate Vijay Kumar suggests persons with disability to do when confronted with passengers illegally crowding a special coach meant for them. “People simply stray into a coach for persons with disability without being questioned,” he says.
Speaking at a national consultation for “Making the Railways inclusive,” organised by the Disability Rights Alliance, here on Saturday, activists from across the country pointed out how persons with disability were treated with due care by railway staff and said facilities meant for them were not sufficient.
Members of the Alliance pointed out that most of the provisions of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, had not been implemented by the Indian Railways. Under the ‘non-discrimination clause’ of the Act, all transport sectors were required to adapt their existing facilities for easy accessibility.
Mr.Kumar said though Section (69) of the PWD Act had a provision that stipulated fine and imprisonment for persons misusing facilities meant for the physically challenged, the railway authorities never invoked this provision to punish illegal occupants of the special coach. “Right from booking a train ticket to conducting the journey, travelling in a train is uncomfortable for persons with disability,” he said.
No catering facility
Coaches for persons with disability were attached near the guard’s cabin and no catering facility was extended, activists said. “Do railway authorities expect physically challenged passengers to go hungry and thirsty throughout their journey,” Mr.Kumar asked.
“Why can’t persons with disability book a train ticket online and avail of a concession when senior citizens can do so,” asked M. Srinivasulu from Andhra Pradesh. He said persons with disability have to go in person and book the tickets to avail themselves of the concession.
Width of door
He pointed out that the width of the door of most train compartments were too narrow for a wheelchair-bound person to get in comfortably and disabled-friendly toilets were not available in most trains.
Paul Ramanathan of Karnataka-based NGO KARO said though battery-operated vehicles were available for persons with disabilities at major railway stations, assistance for operating them was not. “Getting from one end of the platform to the other becomes difficult when there are no announcements about the location of the coach,” he said.
Simha Chandran of the Tamil Nadu Handicapped Persons Federation said going by the provision of three percent reservations for persons with disability, every train should have at least 60 seats available for them. “But now only four seats are available for them and their escorts in an entire train,” he said. He said the Railways should not insist on an escort when physically challenged persons want to travel independently.
Rights activist Rajiv Rajan said a change of attitude towards persons with disability was necessary. “Right now, railway officials only view us as receivers of public charity,” he said.