Even as the Madras High Court had declared that ramps and handrails alone are not enough to make buildings friendly for the differently abled and that government buildings, hospitals and offices should comply with all the disabled-friendly norms found in the Centre’s handbook, Barrier-Free and Accessibility, 2014, the court itself has failed to live up to the standards it had set forth for others.
The MHC had swung into action and made two toilets disabled-friendly overnight in September end following reports that a differently abled person was forced to urinate in a bottle as he had no access to a toilet. But barring that and lifts, wheelchair access and other facilities seem to be a far cry.
While authorities take refuge in the aspect that MHC was a heritage building and that any attempt to put in additional structures are met with immediate opposition from heritage protection groups, even the additional court buildings that came up later have not been disabled-friendly.
In fact, in response to a public interest litigation moved by Rajiv Rajan, a disabled person and activist fighting for a barrier-free environment in public, seeking for directions to various government authorities to comply with the mandate of Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection or Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, the court had directed officials to come out with a clear action plan to verify barrier-free measures in various buildings, in consultation with the Central and State Public Works Department.
However, the court was informed that 2,802 buildings had been identified in Chennai Corporation limits, of which 1,555 had ramps while 304 do not require ramp at all. The Corporation issued notices to 1,970 buildings and provisions for disabled persons as mentioned in the act had been included in the Second Master Plan for Chennai Metropolitan Area 2026.
“During the last decade, the High Court has been issuing directions to the State government and all public sector undertakings to improve the infrastructure of all the offices under them, with special reference to persons with disability. This direction appears to be not applicable to the High Court campus. It is a common sight to see that litigants with disability struggling to even attend to nature’s call. I can say the administration of the High Court has given a go by to the constitutional mandate available to the disabled persons under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is time that High Court rose from its slumbers and acted swiftly in the interest of disabled persons,” said advocate M Radhakrishnan.
Following the uproar over the lack of signages and other disabled-friendly aspects, disability activist Rajiv Rajan along with another person had visited the High Court recently to check whether the facilities provided were disabled-friendly and how it could be improved it they were not.
They noted that the ramps at court was meant for easy transport of carts carrying case bundles and not meant for the disabled. Also, a person on wheel chair cannot make it on their own to the courts and need an assistant to see them through. But unwilling to reveal more about their visit and the shortcoming faced, the team said they would soon hand over a report to the High Court about their visit.
Though the duo expressed scepticism over the lack of facilities, they also noted that they could not visit all places at the court as the CISF had stopped them from visiting all places.
“The HC operating in a heritage building has been the prime reason preventing any addition to the buildings to make the court disabled-friendly. However, within the limitations, arrangements have been made. For now, permission has been granted for the construction of toilets in the first floor and second floor by extending the present toilet, which functions at the ground floor,” Registrar (Administration) P Devanathan.
L Muruganathan, a person suffering from locomotive disability, has moved a plea seeking to ensure that the lower courts across the State are made accessible to the disabled. “Unless an attitudinal change comes, the administration could still take refuge in the fact that making public buildings disabled-friendly cannot happen overnight. Even offering priority to disabled by listing the case on top of the list instead of making them wait does not happen.”