It has been 20-years since the state has been required to implement the laws of accessibility in all its buildings and it’s still thinking about putting up a proposal.
It’s another International Day of Disabled Persons yet again. I’m sure this year’s observance will be as usual – grand programmes organized by the government and various organisations. Politicians and bureaucrats will be invited, speeches will be made, platitudes will be delivered with passion, disabled children will be brought out to perform like circus shows and perhaps wheelchairs or some other aid will be distributed.
And then it’s over – the good deed has been done, the poor, unfortunate citizens of the society have been remembered and everyone will go back to living their lives. As the day fades away, the disabled community will also fade away from our society’s consciousness……….to wait for another December 3. And nothing changes – people living with disabilities in our state continue to live out their days as second class citizens deprived of their rights.
This year is particularly significant as it marks 20 years of the Disability Act 1995 – India’s first ever legislation that laid the foundation for equal rights of persons with disabilities. It was on December 22, 1995 that both Houses of Parliament passed the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Bill of 1995.
The Act is certainly not perfect and the process has been started to bring about a stronger disability rights legislation based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). However, whatever its defects, the 1995 law paved the way towards an accessible and inclusive India. It has helped millions of people with disabilities across the country to come out of the shadows.Nagaland, as a state of the country, is obviously bound by the legislation. But has the Act made any difference for people with disabilities in Nagaland? There are numerous areas to pick through, but there’s not enough space for that. So let’s just take one single aspect of the Act.
Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 under sections 44, 45 and 46 categorically provides for non-discrimination in transport, non-discrimination on the road and non-discrimination in built environment respectively. United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory, under Article 9 casts obligations on the Governments for ensuring to PwDs accessibility to (a) Information, (b) Transportation, (c) Physical Environment, (d) Communication Technology and (e) Accessibility to Services as well as emergency services.
For the uninitiated in the government – politicians and officials alike – the above is about accessibility. As I mentioned, the Act came into existence in 1995 and the state has been legally obligated to implement it for the past 20 years. Every year since 1995, during Disability Day, politicians and bureaucrats have been making speeches on equal opportunities for every citizen – meaning disabled people as well. Leaving aside everything else, schools, colleges, roads, etc, a look at the government buildings alone shows the hollowness of such speeches.
An RTI application to the Home Department seeking information on accessibility facilities/provisions for Disabled Persons in the Nagaland State Civil Secretariat complex, the administrative nerve centre of the state, got this terse reply – the information sought should be treated as ‘Nil”.
A similar application to another major department, Health & Family Welfare, got the same reply – Nil. However, it added that ‘proposal for setting up such facilities will be made in the near future’. It further said if I am not ‘satisfied’ I may appeal to FAA, who apparently is the Principal Director of the department.
I am certainly not satisfied, but I am not appealing but questioning the state government on the gross violation of the rights of the disabled community of the state. It has been 20-years since the state has been required to implement the laws of accessibility in all its buildings and it’s still thinking about putting up a proposal. By the way, it may be pointed out that the Health & Family Welfare does not even have the excuse of an old and outdated building to fall back on as its Directorate is now housed in a swanky new building built with crores of money just a few years ago. Is the government not aware of the laws of the land?
Enough speeches have been made by ministers, parliamentary secretaries and top bureaucrats on equality and inclusion of disabled people, but are they aware that their office chambers and the offices of all major administrative functions are completely inaccessible to persons with disabilities? I have been to the Secretariat twice this year and both times I needed at least three assistants to help me as I struggled up the endless steps to reach the main building. Once inside, I had to battle another fancy stairway to reach the Chief Secretary’s conference room for a meeting.
These are just two cases. But if you take a round of govt offices and buildings you will find that not even a single one has equal access and conveniences for all citizens, even the brand new buildings – they are all designed and built to serve only able bodied citizens.
Accessibility is at the heart of justice and equality for people with disabilities. Accessibility, of course, means a lot more than just physical accessibility, but today we’re focusing only on the physical environment. The physical environment across the state is inaccessible in all areas. The government has consistently failed the disabled community so far.
We don’t need speeches anymore. We don’t want to hear meaningless, empty platitudes anymore. On this day, December 3, 2015, we want to ask the state government when it plans to do justice by its disabled citizens. And may I remind the government that this is not a matter of discretion or special privileges. This is a human rights issue and a developmental issue.
The disabled community of Nagaland wants answers from our government.
(The writer is Disability Rights Advocate)