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: