Civil Aviation Ministry to review existing guidelines for persons with disabilities

There was a ray of hope for differently-abled people in India on Monday when President Pratibha Devisingh Patil announced a separate Department of Disability Affairs in her speech on the first day of the Budget session of Parliament.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation also decided to review the existing guidelines for persons with special needs in the wake of a spate of incidents of discrimination faced by them at airports across the country.

A separate Department of Disability Affairs is proposed to be set up for greater focus on addressing issues confronting persons with disabilities and the government is considering a new legislation for persons with disabilities to replace the existing Act, the President said in her speech — bringing cheer among the groups working in the sector. At present, the disability sector is under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, and partially under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation decided to set up a committee to review the existing guidelines governing the screening process for differently-abled persons at the airports. The committee, which will have representation from the disability sector also, will also recommend amendments, if required. The finer details of the entire exercise are being worked out.

However, amidst all these positive developments, a foreign national has complained of “humiliation” undergone at the Delhi International Airport last month when she was returning home after a conference here.

Henrietta Davis-Wray, a senior global disabled leader, was here on the invitation for the Disabled People's International (DPI) Executive Committee meeting. The incident occurred on February 10 when Ms. Davis-Wray was passing through security channels before boarding a American Airlines flight to Chicago.

During physical frisking, Ms. Davis-Wray was allegedly asked to remove her pants because the security officer felt suspicious of the calliper (brace she wears on her right leg). In a mail to her hosts, Ms. Davis-Wray has said she could not forget the look on the face of the security officer “I was so embarrassed of her action. I fully understand the need for such security checks, but consideration should be given to human beings,” she wrote.

In this case, it was not a lapse on the part of the airline but a clear human rights violation on the part of the security personnel, who belong to the Central Industrial Security Force entrusted with the security of the airports.

Ms. Davis-Wry is from Jamaica member of the DPI World Council. The DPI is a global cross-disability organisation accredited to the United Nations.

Poor representation

Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Ministry meeting, chaired by Joint Secretary Asok Kumar was represented only by two private airlines, though all airlines had been invited, in addition to the disability sector representatives. Also conspicuous by its absence were representatives from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

The Disabled Rights Group (DRG) has condemned the “non-serious attitude” of the Civil Aviation Ministry/ DGCA, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the airlines and called for a re-look at the highest level of the ministry of the blatant disregard of the rights of persons with disability.

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