Saturday, December 17, 2016

RPWD Bill in Lok Sabha: Bill passed but activists term disability bill a 'skeptical Act'

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014

Introduction: 7 Feb, 2014
Com. Ref.: 16 Sept 2014
Com. Rep.: 7 May, 2015

Rajya Sabha: 14 Dec 2016 (Passed)

Lok Sabha: 16 Dec 2016 (Passed)

Activists term disability bill a 'skeptical Act'

TIMES OF INDIA, Delhi, 16 Dec

NEW DELHI: Even as the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016 got the approval of Lok Sabha on Friday and Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, disability rights' groups and activists punched holes into the new Act on Friday. While welcoming the passing of the bill, the process which started in 2007, they say that many provisions of the bill will "inculcate exclusion," and that "this Act will be more of obstacles rather than implementation." Activists are also concerned with the bill not specifying any provisions for women and children with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable groups of the society. 

Concerned over the passing of the bill without any discussion in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, Sambhavana Organization, a disability rights' NGO said that due to this "the Bill has been passed with many inadequacies and unresolved issues," many of which they claim were part of the previous draft bills "which have been omitted or diluted in the present one." 

"We feel happy with the passing of the Bill, but are concerned over the fact that there has been no discussion on it in the Rajya Sabha. This means the issue of disability is not a priority for the policy makers," said Nikhil Jain, president, Sambhavana. 

While the categories of disabilities have increased threefold, from seven to 21, the amended bill provides only 4% reservation for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) which has been 3% so far. The rights' groups and activists were demanding retention of at least 5%. "Reservation in jobs, once proposed to be enhanced from 3% (1995 Act) to 5% (2014), has now been restricted to 4%," said disability right's activist, Dr Satendra Singh

Stating that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which India is a signatory envisage "no policies without the PwDs in its ambit," Pankaj Sinha, a disability rights activist said that the rights of the disabled have been curtailed by the new Bill. 

"The amendments have been in waiting since 2007 and drafts of many committees rejected. The previous government also tried to pass an ordinance after the Sudha Kaul committee report was not accepted. The present government without putting the draft in public domain passed it," said Sinha. 

Stating that the Bill leaves a lot of lacunas for violators to get scot free, activists said that need of the hour has been more teeth for punitive action. "Another amendment drops imprisonment (two months to six months) for violation. There is only a fine of Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh," added Singh. 

Another major concern has been regarding the rights of women and children with disabilities. "There is a special mention about rights of women and children with disabilities, but nothing specific has been stated. There is no legal provision for women with disabilities in marriage or divorce laws, where we need more clarity because they suffer the most. As far as children with disabilities are concerned there is also a special mention, but we need to clarity on how they are treated in institutions and inclusive education for them. In adoption laws too children with disabilities are left out. We need more specific provisions regarding adoption of children with disabilities," said Abha Khetarpal, president, Cross for Hurdles. 

Subhash Chandra Vashishth, advocate, disability rights, Centre for Accessibility in Built Environment, also highlighted the dilution in the amendments such as how Section 3 (3) allows "discrimination against disabled person if it is 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.' This clause leaves 'legitimate aim' open to the subjective interpretation of bureaucracy. 

According to Singh, "Only remarkable part of a skeptical Act is inclusion of autism, dyslexia, deaf-blindness and other impairments." 

The Blind Workers Union too claimed that the main problems faced by the disabled community have not been addressed. The union in a statement said, "The Bill continues to lack any serious engagement on the question of protecting the labour and economic rights of disabled persons employed in the private sector."
Source: Times of India, 16 Dec 2016

RPWD Bill in Rajya Sabha: Bill passed, New conditions, revised quota and a few concerns

Know your Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014

Introduction: 7 Feb, 2014
Com. Ref.: 16 Sept 2014
Com. Rep.: 7 May, 2015

Rajya Sabha: 14 Dec 2016

Disabilities Bill passed in Rajya Sabha: New conditions, revised quota and a few concerns

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014, which was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2014, was cleared Thursday with 119 amendments moved by union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot. The legislation, drafted to make Indian laws compliant with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will replace the Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. The number of disabilities listed rises from seven in the 1995 Act through 19 in the 2014 bill to 21 after the amendments, including acid attack and Parkinson’s disease.

The bill sets the government a two-year deadline to ensure persons with disability get barrier-free access in all kinds of physical infrastructure and transport systems. It recognises the need for reservation for them in promotion and makes special mention of the rights of disabled women and children. It defines many terms vague in previous versions, including what constitutes discrimination.
While disability rights activists have welcomed the amendments, they are upset about section 3(3) allowing discrimination against a disabled person if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. Prasanna Kumar Pincha, till date the only disabled person appointed Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, welcomed the bill but said this clause leaves “legitimate aim” open to the subjective interpretation of the bureaucracy.
Also, reservation in jobs, once proposed to be enhanced from 3 per cent (1995 Act) to 5 per cent (2014), has now been restricted to 4 per cent. CPM MPs Sitaram Yechury, K K Ragesh and C P Narayanan moved amendments to rectify the discrimination and reservation clauses. Gehlot assured clauses will be inserted when rules are framed to ensure the discrimination clause is not misused. “Why is there a hesitation to address this concern regarding discrimination in the parent act itself?” Pincha said.
“The bill is definitely a stride forward from the 2014 bill,” said advocate S K Rungta, convener of the All India Disability Alliance. He felt there was no need for the bill to dilute the fundamental right to equality as the Supreme Court has often recognised “reasonable classification”. “For example, a blind person cannot be employed in the military. It clearly does not constitute discrimination.”
Another sore point with activists is a provision for a Chief Commissioner of Disabilities instead of National Commission proposed in 2014. The chief commissioner has only recommending powers and there is no provision to ensure he or she too is a disabled person. “Every commission — minorities, women, SCs or STs — has a chairperson from the same category,” said disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh. Another amendment drops imprisonment (two months to six years) for violation. There is only a fine: Rs 10,000 to Rs 5 lakh.
Source: Indian Express 15th Dec 2016

RPWD Bill amendments: what they are, what they will do?

Know your Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014

Introduction: 7 Feb, 2014
Com. Ref.: 16 Sept 2014
Com. Rep.: 7 May, 2015

The amendments to Disability Bill: what they are, what they will do?

What is the Disability Bill about?
The government will bring 119 amendments to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014. The legislation has been pending in Rajya Sabha since February 2014; the term of the UPA government ended soon after it was introduced. The draft legislation is based on the 2010 report of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s expert Sudha Kaul Committee, and will replace the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. The Bill is being brought to comply with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which India became a signatory in 2007.
The 1995 Act recognised 7 disabilities — blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental retardation and mental illness. The 2014 Bill expanded the definition of disability to cover 19 conditions, including cerebral palsy, haemophilia, multiple sclerosis, autism and thalassaemia among others. The Bill also allowed the central government to notify any other condition as a disability.
The 2011 Census put the number of disabled in India at 2.68 crore, or 2.21% of the population. This a gross underestimation, especially in the light of the proposed amendments, which greatly widen the current Census definition of disability. The Bill makes a larger number of people eligible for rights and entitlements by reason of their disability, and for welfare schemes and reservations in government jobs and education.
What changes have been proposed to the 2014 Bill?
The amended version recognises two other disabilities — resulting from acid attacks and Parkinson’s Disease — taking the number of recognised conditions to 21, and defines each one of them. It makes a special mention of the needs of women and children with disabilities, and lays down specific provisions on the guardianship of mentally ill persons. “The amendments include private firms in the definition of ‘establishments’, which previously referred to only government bodies. All such establishments have to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with barrier-free access in buildings, transport systems and all kinds of public infrastructure, and are not discriminated against in matters of employment,” said an official from the Ministry of Social Justice.
All these are progressive amendments. Are there any obvious negatives?
The amendments, if passed in their present form, will dilute safeguards provided in the originally proposed Bill. The 1995 law had 3% reservation for the disabled in higher education institutions and government jobs — 1% each for physically, hearing and visually impaired persons. The 2014 Bill raised the ceiling to 5%, adding 1% each for mental illnesses and multiple disabilities. The proposed amendments cut the quota to 4%.
“When a greater number of disabilities are being brought under the purview of the Act, the percentage of reservation should go up proportionately, “ said Muralidharan, secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled.
The proposed amendments do away with the provision in the 2014 Bill for strong National and State Commissions for Persons with Disabilities, with powers on a par with a civil court. They instead continue with the status quo of having only a Chief Commissioner with far fewer powers.
“Several favourable orders given by the Chief Commissioner have been quashed by the courts on the ground that the Commissioner has no powers and is only a quasi-judicial body,” said disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh. He added that while the proposed amendments rightly recognise a wider range of disabilities, they fail to specify the degree of disability for thalassaemia, learning disabilities or autism. “Moreover, in India there are no suitable tools to quantify autism or learning disabilities,” Dr Singh said.
What if the disability law is violated?
While the existing (1995) Act has no penal provision, the 2014 version made violation of any provision of the Act punishable with a jail term of up to 6 months, and/or a fine of Rs 10,000. Subsequent violations could attract a jail term of up to 2 years and/or a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh. The amended Bill, however, proposes to remove the jail term entirely, and only keep fines for breaking the law or discriminating against persons with disabilities.
Will the amended law help eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities?
The proposed amended law defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction on the basis of disability” which impairs or nullifies the exercise on an equal basis of rights in the “political, social, cultural, civil or any other field”. However, it condones such discrimination if “it is shown that the impugned act or omission is a proportionate means of achieving legitimate aim”. Disability rights activists see this rider as paving the way for extreme interpretations.
“The excuse given by the government is that we will cry discrimination if we are denied certain jobs like, say, that of a pilot. However, every job has certain basic requirements, and no person with disability will apply for it unless he or she meets the criteria,” said Muralidharan. CPM MPs K K Ragesh and C P Narayanan are set to move amendments to the Bill asking for this provision to be deleted, and for retaining only the clause, “No person with disability shall be discriminated on the grounds of disability”.

As reported in Indian Express on 13th Dec 2016

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Accessibility is Human Rights issue

3 December 2015: It was my first visit to Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi to witness the National Award function on International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Govt of India launched the Accessible India Campaign from here but alas the venue was disabled friendly. I along with Abha Khetarpal wrote to the PMO office and Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities about the inaccessible ramp the very next day.

4 December 2015: I was invited at Social Welfare Department of Govt of Delhi on my grievance of web-inaccessibility. When I reached there, I found the premises again disabled-unfriendly. The same day I registered my complaint.

6 December 2015: I was returning to home when I saw the 'masterpiece' steep ramp at IDBI Bank in Vasundhara, Ghaziabad near my house. I tweeted to the officials at the same moment.

A year later!

Today is Human Rights Day (10 December 2016) and the theme is #StandUp4HumanRights

"“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere." (Eleanor Roosevelt)

I followed up with all three officials where I get success with IDBI Bank, partial success with Delhi Govt as they released tender for installation of lift and no result with Central Govt as their overhyped Accessible India Campaign failed to produce any results.

Youth Ki Awaaz followed the IDBI story which you can read here. News18's Citizen Journalist program also covered the story:


The end result was creation of an accessible ramp by IDBI Bank.Times of India covered the story on the Diwali Day:
GHAZIABAD: The relentless pursuit for over one year by a differently abled activist has prompted one of the banks in Vasundhara to construct a ramp at its building to enable wheelchair-bound customers to enter premises. The activist had found it difficult to access many banks in the area as he had to climb a fleet of steep stairs.
Bank Manager Sumit Jakhar with Dr Satendra Singh
This year also marks ten years of coming into existence of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which is the first human rights treaty in the 21st Century. Article 9 of UNCRPD states:
States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.
Since India has ratified the convention, it is obligation of the State to provide us accessibility. As I quote Ms Roosvelt above, no effort is small or insignificant. Accessibility is human rights issue and we should strive to make a difference. Every little effort counts.

#HumanRightsDay #StandUp4HumanRights #envision2030 #CRPD #SDGs #dISABILITY #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs #LeaveNoOneBehind

Everything you want to know about rights of drivers with disability

Ability On Wheels... Enabling Drivability (First Edition, 2016) Paperback – 2016

"Ability on Wheels," penned by Harish Kumar, is an attempt to answer all the questions which come to the mind of any person with disability when he dreams of buying a vehicle & driving on his own. This book also provides insights on safe driving, which are applicable to all & hence even people without disabilities can read this book & learn a lot of things about driving which they may have been ignorant of.

Who is Harish Kumar? A Holder of two National Records in Limca Book of Records, Harish was born with an absence of right arm below the elbow. He did his schooling from a reputed school in Dehradun & went on to do his Masters in Science from IIT Roorkee & Masters in Technology from IIT Delhi. In 2012 he became the first physically challenged person in the country to successfully complete a Solo All India Driving Expedition thereby creating a new National Record in Limca Book of Records.
Harish Kumar, editor and Dr Satendra Singh
What is "Ability on Wheels"? ABILITY ON WHEELS is an effort to encourage the people with disabilities to take a big leap towards leading a normal life by providing mobility & accessibility services & solutions. As a first step towards this direction Ability on Wheels has launched a first of its kind in the country driving school exclusively for the differently abled using customized cars in Ahmedabad. This is the first book penned by Harish as an effort to spread awareness & provide useful information on disability & driving. 

"Enabling Driveability" is everything you always wanted to know about disability & driving. In line with 'nothing about us, without 'us', 6 individuals with disabilities have pen down their experiences to make it a complete encyclopedia on driving and disability in Indian context.

Harish Kumar begins with 'Can I drive?' where he writes about disability assessment with regards to driving. Kavita Modi writes about invalid carriage (IVC) in chapter 2 -'What can I drive?' Pallav Pathak mentions driving strategies in chapter 3 - 'How can I drive?' Jaspal Singh talks about driving license in chapter 4 - 'Let me drive'. Navin Gulia mentions about Governmental benefits in chapter 5 - 'My best drive'. Issues facing these benefits are covered in chapter 6 written by me 'A worthy drive'. Finally there is a chapter on the ideal scenario as 'Dream Drive'. The foreword has been written by Advocate Subhash Chandra Vashishth. I request people to forward this valuable info in the Ability on Wheels Book to all the needy. One can buy the book from here.

The above picture is that of my modified Baleno along with the 'Ability on Wheel' book as a constant companion. To buy this car, I had to fight a lengthy battle which is covered in Chapter six and its outcome was amendment of Central Guidelines for availing excise duty concession. The details are available here.

Access denied at meet to honour them

Delhi State Awards for Persons with Disabilities, 2016
3 Dec 2016, Times of India. NEW DELHI: It was a programme organised to felicitate the disabled, but the venue itself underlined the lack of seriousness with which their problems are taken. At the government function to honour outstanding achievers among persons with disabilities (PwDs) on Friday, the ramp leading to the dais was constructed in such a manner as to render it practically inaccessible to physically challenged people.

While describing the experience as humiliating and an affront to their dignity, other award winners, however, said this was not an exception. Most public spaces, they said, were still inaccessible and policymakers seemed not to want to consult them while formulating policies or implementing them.

Hardeep Singh initially declined to go up to the stage, given the steep ascent. However volunteers from the social welfare department assured him and pushed his wheelchair up the ramp. However, they had no idea how to get him down. Singh refused to be carried down, so he abandoned his wheelchair and crawled down the ramp.

Dr Satendra Singh felicitated with Delhi State Awards Persons with disabilities 2016Right at the outset, disability rights activist Dr Satendra Singh warned the state labour minister:
"Gopal Raiji, climbing this ramp won't be easy even for you. If we don't address such issues as these, the Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan cannot be successful." Dr Singh added that even the Vigyan Bhawan walkway to the stage had not been disabled-friendly when the event to give national awards to PwDs was organised there. "Accessibility is about the dignity of an individual," said Dr Singh. 

In a picture that was emblematic of the plight of PwDs, an honoree, 75-year-old Hardeep Singh, who lost both his legs saving a girl from dacoits on a moving train, had to get off his wheelchair after receiving the award and crawl down the ramp to reach his seat. Another PwD, a para-athlete, had to be carried down the ramp along with the wheelchair by four people.

Para-athlete Trivendra Singh felt that India, as a country, was not only insensitive to the rights of the physically challenged, but had a long way to go to make its public spaces friendly for them.

"You have just seen the ramp. This is a common problem," said the sportsperson. "However, we are never consulted about these things. When I was in China to participate in the Asian Games, we were on our own. I am wheelchair-bound, but could easily move around on my own."

The other participants also pointed out how accessing important utilities like ATMs as well as public transport in the city was always a challenge.

Source: Times of India, 3 Dec 2016

Delhi Govt felicitates Dr Satendra Singh with State Awards for Persons with Disabilities, 2016

Dr Satendra Singh felicitated with Delhi State Awards Persons with disabilities 2016

International Day of Persons with Disabilities turned out to be a special affair for eight people with disabilities who were  felicitated by Delhi government for their achievements in various fields. Delhi Social Welfare Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was the Chief  Guest but in his absence Minister of Labour and Employment Mr Gopal Rai felicitated them for their exceptional achievements in the field of creativity, sports, entrepreneurship and social work as part of the State Awards for Persons with Disabilities, 2016.

Dr Satendra Singh got the award in the 'Social Work' category. His achievements are enlisted in the Times of India graphic on the left.

They Tell tales of a disabled system that hurt them. (Times of India, 3 Dec 2016)

NEW DELHI: Physically challenged people got a rare opportunity to share their grievances with the state government when they gathered at the Delhi Secretariat for a felicitation function on Friday. Delhi labour minister Gopal Rai rewarded them by hearing out their stories, among them tales of discrimination, inadequate Braille and educational materials for students and, above all, the lack of job opportunities. The minister nudged the officials of social welfare department present to respond to the complaints.
The programme had been organised by Delhi government's department of social welfare to honour exceptional achievers among the physically challenged on the eve of International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

Rai invited the persons with disabilities (PwDs) to talk of problems faced by them before the cultural and felicitation programme began. "I would like to learn about the issues that trouble PwDs," Rai said. "Perhaps then, by the time the next felicitation function is held next year, we will have been able to take these issues up as challenges for our government to address." He said Friday's function would prove more meaningful if the government got suggestions on how to help PwDs.

While Dr Satendra Singh, recipient of the award in the category of social work, highlighted the problem of accessibility of public spaces and the disability policies of the government, a student of a blind school drew the government's attention to some of the basic issues they confronted regularly, like lack of teachers and paucity of teaching-learning aids.

Dr Singh suggested that the first step for the government should be to have a separate 'department for disability'. He also pointed out that the post of commissioner of disability was lying vacant for over a year now and that state executive and state coordination committees had not been constituted in Delhi for over one and half years despite provisions for such panels in the Disability Act. "If these issues are addressed, no one can stop us from making Delhi disabled-friendly," concluded Singh.

The sportspersons among the PwDs present brought up the topic of job opportunities or the lack of them in the capital. R Kumar, a national-level table tennis player, said, "I have represented Delhi at various levels, but there is no provision for jobs for us under the sports quota here."

Mohammad Sahir, a blind student, talked of the difficulties that primary and middle school students at a government senior secondary for blind boys have been facing for three years.

"There are around 10 positions for teachers lying vacant in the school for the last three years," he said. "We even demonstrated against the vacancies not being filled. Besides, we also need Braille books and audio books. Because of the lack of audio devices, we have been struggling."

Responding to these complaints, the department officials promised that the vacancies would be dealt with temporarily by appointing guest teachers and efforts would be made for permanent appointments. They assured the students they would be provided audio books within a week.

Source: Times of India, 3 Dec 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

UN Asia-Pacific video contest

This year, United Nations Day on 24 October will be celebrated across Asia-Pacific with a video contest on how the region is working towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To support the campaign, UN has urged the participation in sharing your favorite SDG theme and why you think it is important for the region. The 7 themes are: Education 2030, Sustainable societies, Resource efficient growth, Poverty eradication & inclusion, Disaster risk reduction, Gender equality and Better data.

To participate in the contest:

1. Go out to a popular landmark or unique place in your country
2. Record a 20-second video about your favorite SDG theme. Try to be creative – sing, dance, perform a sketch or simply tell us why you chose that theme.
3. Upload the video on YouTube and share it on social media by 30 SEPT 2016. Use the hashtags #UN4U #AsiaPacific in your video description

A selection of videos will be compiled into our UN Day montage and screened around the region. Winning entries will also be awarded prizes up to USD $350.


Here is my entry for this campaign. I have chosen the SDG theme of Disaster-inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DiDRR). It is also in line with the theme '#LiveToTell' of International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13th October.

#UN4U #AsiaPacific #DiDRR #SDGs #Disability
#IDDR2016 #Envision2030 #LiveToTell #Switch2Sendai

Friday, September 23, 2016

From the Disabled, To the Disabled

World Is One News (WION) is an international news entity with headquarters across South Asia. WION covered my relentless campaign of making places accessible for persons with disability in the capital of India.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How I got my Railway Photo Identity Card (for Persons with Disabilities) to access e-ticket facility

4 years ago on this day a historic decision was delivered by High Court of Delhi. Prior to that, even after 66 years of Independence, people with disabilities had no right to book railway tickets through internet. Ironically this facility was available to both non-disabled and elderly citizens. This prompted Mr Praveen Kumar G, a person with visual disability, to file a Public Interest Litigation through Advocate Mr. Pankaj Sinha, a lawyer with visual disability, alleging discrimination between disabled persons and senior citizens in the Policy of IRCTC which provides facilities and services for issuing the railway ticket on internet, or at the reservation counters. Vide Praveen Kumar G vs Union of India & Ors. in the HC of Delhi W.P.(C) 2145 of 2011, Hon’ble Court directed the Railway Board, Ministry of Railway, to start this facility for citizens with disability. The judgement is available at this link.

This was the genesis of Railway Photo Identity Card. Let me tell you that this card is different from ‘Railway Concession certificate’ which is based on verification of ‘Disability certificate’. However, one cannot book a ticket online through the latter hence the whole PIL. For easy explanation, I shall be using ‘E-concession card’ for ‘Railway Photo ID Card’ in this post.

The Railway Board vide its Commercial Circular No. 18 of 2015 detailed the whole scheme to all zonal railways for effective implementation through its letter dated 19 March 2015. The letter is uploaded here.

Steps for issuance of ‘E-concession card’ (Railway Photo ID Card) 

1. A person with disability entitled for railway concession has to approach Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) Office along with Railway Concession certificate, Photo ID proof, Date of Birth proof, Address proof and 2 passport size photos (in person or by post) along with a set of attested photocopies. Letter should be addressed to Senior Divisional Commercial Manager (Sr DCM).

2. Commercial Inspector of the DRM office will in turn verify the documents from where the Railway Concession certificate was issued.

3. After verification E-concession card will be issued and the applicant will be informed telephonically to collect the card. The applicant with disability or his/her representative can collect the card after showing original certificates

So far, so good. However, to get this actually is a big hurdle. Since the launch of this facility, there has been lot of complaints of harassment of disabled persons by the Concession Cell of DRM Office, Delhi. I am a person with locomotor disability and I already have my disability certificate and railway concession certificate. I finally decided to test it on my own and applied for E-concession card on 30th May 2016. The DRM office on the State Entry Road (near Connaught Place) has a smashing ramp but the Concession Cell of the DRM office has a broken ramp completely unfit and risky for a wheelchair user and those wearing orthosis. When you enter inside, another broken bench will gather your attention. Anyways, I submitted my documents and the official said that I have to submit disability certificate as well. Infact, they have pasted a paper showing documents required on the glass window. I said nothing of this sort is mentioned in original Commercial Circular No. 18 (CC 18) of 2015. I showed him the pdf on my mobile. Looking at it for some time, he agreed and issued me a receiving. I tweeted about the unsafe ramp to Railway Minister and DRM. After some time, I asked one of my friend (another doctor with disability) about his card. He said he submitted a year ago on 12 June 2015 but still there has been no response. He also tweeted to the honourable mentions above. I further came to know about similar delays elsewhere.

We complained on twitter but the messages keeps getting forwarded from one twitter handle to another without any assistance. The public mobile number of Concession Cell (9717649957) remained switched off on three consecutive days despite complaint to Sr DCM. The other number provided by his office (011-42622054) could not be contacted.

In the mean time, CNN News18 highlighted my complaint of inaccessible ramp at Concession Cell of DRM office on it show Citizen Journalist. The recording is available on YouTube at the following link between 7.50 min to 9.20 min :

So finally, I wrote a long email to Railway Minster, with copy to Executive Director (Public Grievances) and DRM. I also mentioned that CC 18 states clearly that ‘the total process till the issuance of card should be completed within reasonable time from the date of receipt of application.’ I gave example of my friend Dr Nirad Yadav who applied 14 months ago. I also mentioned that Concession Cell is unnecessary asking for disability certificate and thereby harassing those who are following Railway Circular and about the broken ramp.

The very next day, I got call from Concession Cell that mine and Dr Yadav’s cards are ready and we can collect them.

Both of us went to the Concession Cell on 9th September 2016. After reaching there, we came to know that we have to take a token. There was a huge rush but we waited and took tokens. The process was painstakingly slow so after an hour I called on the number which invited us. . I called the number which had given us a call the other day. The gentleman was sitting in front of the counter and rudely said ‘wait for your turn’. The public mobile number 9717649957 was still switched off on 4th successive day.

We waited patiently, standing in the hot foyer. When our turn came, they insisted for de-lamination as they have to write the number on original Railway Concession Certificate. We said it's difficult to de-laminate and requested them to keep it with themselves since we shall be getting e-concession in turn. To this they clarified that the e-card is valid only for 5 years and has to be renewed. This was ridiculous since my disability was permanent. Why a person with permanent disability and a valid permanent disability certificate needs to prove to the railways again and again that he is disabled?

Anyways, rather than arguing we went outside at Connaught Place to get the needful done. My friend got his card and I told him to rush to his hospital since it took us much longer than what we had anticipated. It was my turn came now. The official said that I have not provided the disability certificate. I replied in affirmative and said why do you need it when based on the same certificate, Railways have issued me Railways Concession Certificate. To this he said they won’t be able to issue me the card then. I said that I have submitted all the documents which are required as per the Railway Circular. I told him to write on my application why the card cannot be issued. He was taken aback. He said, Sir you are doctor, things will be delayed. I said you only called me after I wrote to your bosses and I will only furnish those documents which are mentioned in the circular. His fingers were trembling as he did not want to give anything in writing. His nearby fellow coaxed him to reject. He went inside to consult seniors.

It was 12.30 pm. The mob was building with people from far off places like Faridabad and Ghaziabad standing on their crutches because of limited seating arrangements. I chatted with the people around. Few of them were waiting since more than a year. I took photos of their application (Mr Pramod Kumar, Mr Nagender Narayan) & started tweeting to the Railway Minister and DRM I uploaded pictures of the broken bench as well as the inaccessible ramp too. It was 1 pm with official lunch hour in progress. Few minutes later, twitter handle of Sr DCM tweeted back and about my mobile number. I showed it to the official sitting inside and he asked how many days old is this tweet? The animated crowd behind said in unison '1 min back'. Few phone calls came and whole staff vanished from the Concession Cell. At around 1.45 pm, their senior official came with the copy of circular in his hand. I said you are harassing us by asking irrelevant documents. He apologized and said, 'Sir, you are right. Mistake is from top. They ignored the fact that computerized certification needs disability certificate number. He took notice of the ramp too and listened to the other people who were getting impatient by now. His junior collected names of all of us and in the next minute, I got my card. Two others received their cards as well. I was told not to get it laminated since it has to be renewed after 5 years. This is in stark contrast to what it’s written in the guidelines. The circular states that we should get it laminated as per point number 9.

Later in the day, I got a call from another of my dentist friend with disability that he has been asked to collect his card as well. He got it on the next working day.

There are more questions than answers in this whole saga. Why the Railways are hell bent on doing the CBI inquiry of our railway concession card? It is issued only on the basis of our disability certificate which is in turn given by a Government medical board. Do the Railways question the integrity of Government doctors?
Why they need multiple certificates? Why the old Railway Concession certificate is not valid now consideing the new process of issuance taking 6 months to an year? Moreover, The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment will be shortly releasing universal identity card for people with disabilities which will be a single card to avail all government benefits. With this in sight, why the Railways wants to engage its already under-staffed DRM office to do a Sherlock Holmes on our railway concession cards?
Is it so difficult for Mr Prabhu to speak to Mr Gehlot and find a workable solution?

I began this post by mentioning about the PIL filed by people with disabilities. I end this post by emphasizing that all policy, guidelines for people with disabilities will be futile until and unless we the disabled people are involved in the decisions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Passengers with disabilities a 'bigger threat' as per India's Bureau of Civil Aviation Security

"Millions of passengers at airports across India go through pat-down security checks, often leading to delays and harassment, especially for persons with disabilities. An RTI application filed by a disability rights activist has now revealed why this is the case, even though technology exists that makes it unnecessary. Not only does the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) regard passengers with disabilities as a higher security risk but the agency has also been responsible for blocking the introduction of disabled-friendly safe full body scanners since it is still “exploring its feasibility at Indian airports keeping in view the privacy (issues) and health hazards from radiation”.

"BCAS, which is the regulatory authority for civil aviation security in India and comes under the ministry of civil aviation, appears to have not taken into account the fact that many nations, including the US, have shifted to the use of new technology at airports for reducing scanning time and inconvenience to the passengers."

Read the full featured article on my RTI expose "Passengers With Disabilities Pose ‘Higher’ Security Risk, Says Aviation Authority" here at 'The Wire':

I had faced  harassment from the airport security staff in February 2014, which was covered by both The Hindu and The Times of India.I filed complaints with the BCAS, the ministry of civil aviation and the chief commissioner of persons with disability. I then filed an RTI application on October 21, 2014 and followed it up with first and second appeals on November 12 and December 22, 2014.

Human dignity is a constitutional value and a constitutional goal. BCAS is humiliating people with disabilities though we are willing to help them by providing suggestions. That is why I am advocating the millimetre wave technology. In the recent landmark judgement in Jeeja Ghosh vs Spice Jet, the Supreme Court had categorically said, “Non disabled people do not understand disabled ones…. What non-disabled people do not understand is that people with disabilities also have some rights, hopes and aspirations as everyone else”.

If it had not been for the insistence of information commissioner Bimal Julka, a former director in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the BCAS would not have parted with any information. BCAS kept denying information on the pretext of national security,” However, Julka said the “appellant raised pertinent issues regarding safeguarding the rights of disabled persons who are harassed by screeners. The appellant also raised very important and critical issues related to the new and innovative technologies being adopted by various advanced countries for disabled”. Given the gravity of these issues, he directed BCAS to provide the relevant information. The CIC judgement is reproduced below:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Centre amends excise duty concession for disabled

BREAKTHROUGH: It was not easy to fight single handedly for a cause which involved three different ministries. But if there is a will, there is a way. When TOI first broke the story, a section of so called armchair facebook activists complained that few people are getting excise duty concession. Few people! After a 5 month advocacy with Department of Heavy industries, here is the policy change. Customers with disabilities DO NOT need manufacturer certificate now. They are free from the harassment of Maruti Suzuki (who discriminates on right and leg left disabled despite losing a case in High Court of Rajasthan). One has to get only a RTO certificate NOW and the benefit extends to a disabled person driving an automatic transmission, retrofitted vehicle or one using assistive devices. Please spread the word and know your rights.

Full Times Of India report:

Manash Pratim Gohain| May 26, 2016, 01.03 AM IST

New Delhi: The Centre has amended the guidelines for excise duty concession to disabled people for buying vehicles . A notification in this regard was issued by the ministry of heavy industries on April 21 and May 2.

The new guidelines have also done away with the manufacturer's certificate necessary for availing the concession; a certificate by the district road transport officer would now suffice.

TOI had reported on April 4 how Maruti Suzuki India Ltd had denied the concession to Dr Satendra Singh, a teacher at University College of Medical Sciences, on the grounds that it's allowed only in the case of a left-leg disability. Singh was disabled in the right leg.

The Gazette of India notification stated, " has further been decided that the requirement of manufacturer certificate from OEMs in case of retrofitment of vehicles, after purchase, shall be dispensed with. Instead the certificate from district road transport officer, as per annexure, would be sufficient for applying to this department."

An addendum was issued on May 2 on the annexure of the 'certificate to be issued' that added "auto transmission or which has been retrofitted or his/her disability has been addressed by prosthetic means". This was done so that no disabled buyers are harassed.

Gazette notification

Also Read:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Delhi Traffic Police: 'How can you drive if you are disabled'?

‘How can you drive if you are disabled’
Bindu Shajan Perappadan, THE HINDU, 24 April 2016

Singled out:Disability rights activist Dr. Satendra Singh shows how he operates his specially-modified special arrangement

Unaware volunteers, traffic cops pose odd questions to differently-abled drivers during odd-even:

If you are disabled, how can you drive? The question left me stumped, says disability rights activist and physician Dr. Satendra Singh, who along with several other differently-abled persons have complained about the ignorance of the civil defence volunteers and the Traffic Police when it comes to the rights of the disabled during the on-going odd-even scheme.

“Despite being exempted from the drive for being under the disabled category I continue to face harassment by constables at Delhi-UP borders. I have been stopped and questioned three times at the same place over the past two days. I have been asked, How can I even drive with my disability,” said Dr. Singh.

Recalling his ordeal, Dr. Singh said: “I am a doctor with a disability, who drives modified car with hand control. Earlier this week I was stopped by a couple of civil defence volunteers. I told them that I drive a modified car and that I am a person with disability. I also told them that I am under the exempted category. After a few minutes I drove out only to be stopped again with the same set of questions thrown at me. Currently there is no obvious way to identify a disabled driver in a car. Disabled persons in the vehicle are being stopped.”

The physician said that the Delhi government should consider issuing disability certificates with stickers showing the International Symbol of Access to indicate that the vehicle is being driven by a person with disability.

“This will also help us in the perennial problem we face during parking. Delhi Metros are considered disabled-friendly but they are not since none of the stations have 'reserved parking' for the disabled,” he added.

Meanwhile, others in the city, who faced a similar situation, said that it is embarrassing to face such harassment in the Capital.

Activist and head of department in a government medical college, Dr. Dinesh Puri says he was stopped earlier this week by a traffic cop who was completely unaware of the rules and regulations.

“It is not a joke to work with cops who are not aware of the rules. We don’t need sympathy or contempt. There is a larger issue here which needs to be addressed to ensure that harassment is eliminated,” he said.

R.K. Arora, from a Central government ministry, said there is no reason why a miniscule population should be harassed during the drive.

“Education is easy. We cannot be humiliated because the volunteers and cops are ignorant about the rules.”

Many suggest stickers to identify a car driven by a differently-abled individual

Source: The Hindu, 24 April


Traffic cops harass people with disabilities in Odd Even phase

Disabled complain of harassment by traffic cops

Rumu Banerjee | TIMES OF INDIA | Apr 22, 2016

NEW DELHI: Several differently-abled people have complained about harassment by the traffic police during the odd-even drive. Dipankur Goyal, for one, alleged that he was challaned Rs 2,000 even after he showed the cops a certificate proving that he was 100% visually impaired.

As per the Delhi government notification, a vehicle driven or occupied by a differently abled person is exempt from the rule. Goyal told TOI, "I tried to explain my disability and even showed the certificate to the cop. But no one would listen to me."

Goyal's is not an isolated case, though. Satendra Singh, a doctor who drives a modified car, claimed he was stopped several times in the past few days. Singh was a bit luckier than Goyal in the sense that the cops understood his disability and didn't challan him. "I have been stopped at various points. Every time, I have had to explain that my car is modified for the disabled and show them the caliper as proof."

Not every disability is easily visible or can be explained away, though. Goyal said he was challaned as the cops said his driver was at the wheel and would thus be liable for the challan. "But I can't go around without a driver. And that's why the government exemption is for disabled people who occupy a car. But most cops and volunteers don't understand the rules," said Goyal.

Singh, who is also a disabled rights activist, said he had come across several similar complaints.
"Disabled people are being stopped. Already, traffic police and volunteers are overburdened and this is neither their fault nor ours," said Singh. According to him, a way to getting around the problem is creating better awareness of rules among the ground staff and also issuing an identifiable sticker to the disabled people

Source: Times of India, 22 April