The Tamil Nadu Government has a new order that compels all public buildings in urban centres to be made disabled-friendly in six months. Will it actually happen?

Will it fly? That’s the first question anyone would ask about the new Government Order that Fort St. George in Chennai has issued.

This is an order from the Government of Tamil Nadu that requires all urban local bodies to provide a specific set of facilities in public buildings for the disabled – primarily a ramp, access to lifts that can accommodate wheelchairs, special toilets, and parking spaces. Read the order here.

For the purposes of law, buildings are defined as a multi-storeyed having more than two floors and where public have access for any purpose, and used as a school, college, university or educational institution, hostel, library, lecture room, hospital, nursing home, dispensary, boarding and lodging house, choultry or marriage hall, cinema theatre, amusement park, recreation centre, jewellery shop, bank, ATM, market for sale of merchandise, Central or State government buildings, quasi-government or government undertaking controlled by the Centre or state, among others.

Since the order requires urban local bodies to ensure compliance within the expiry of 180 days from the issuance of the G.O. (which is February 1), all Corporations and Municipalities and Town Panchayats have their work cut out – if they choose to implement the G.O. seriously, that is.

Dull record

The record of the Tamil Nadu government when it comes to implementing facilities for the disabled is somewhat patchy, to put it mildly. Urban local bodies have not provided the basic facilities in public places for the disabled – footpaths, safe pedestrian crossings (see earlier posting on this here), ramps even in the buildings of the local body and so on.

A few years ago, the Madras High Court ordered that the Metropolitan Transport Corporation should not acquire any buses, until it was able to demonstrate that the buses could accommodate a wheelchair borne passenger.

The MTC created a crude prototype and presented it to the court, although it had no intention to modify its existing buses to suit the needs of people without various disabilities. Even more shocking was its brazen move to ignore the national bus code and acquire new buses that were not low floor, as recently as last year. With a rise in fuel price, the possibility of acquisition of new buses with low floor appears even more distant.

Good gone bad

By contrast, the problem of rainwater harvesting was addressed by the Tamil Nadu government aggressively, after an active citizen and media campaign highlighted the benefits of harvesting. A G.O. that made it compulsory to introduce such facility in all buildings was issued and pursued with an implementation deadline of October 2003. It is another story that the enforcement of this G.O. has taken a backseat in recent years, probably because of the steady availability of Metrowater, made possible by annual rains. The present year is an exception, though, and groundwater had begun to decline in many areas, along with the Metrowater supply.

All of which only highlights the role of NGOs and vocal citizens in ensuring that the urban local bodies are kept on their toes, to retrofit existing buildings with the facilities ordered, and to get new buildings to have them from the beginning.