By Maitreya Shah
The Accessible India Campaign, or ‘Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan’, is one of the flagship schemes of the present Government. It is one of the dream-missions of our Hon’ble Prime Minister, for empowerment of persons with disabilities.
Who isa person with disability?
According to the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” According to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act (2016), persons with disabilities are ones facing any of the listed 21 types of impairments, which includes physical, mental and intellectual disorders in a nutshell. A general definition of persons with disabilities is shaped by medical conditions that act as barrier for a person’s daily life and living. However, as per the United Nations, each one of us is a disabled in some point of our lives-a child, pregnant woman, person with a broken leg, a parent with tram, an elderly person, are all disabled in one way or the other. Thus, the needs of persons with disabilities can be aligned with the rights of the mainstream society. These persons, whether be it temporarily or permanently disabled, face various barriers in their day-to-day activities. These barriers include not only their own impairments, but also the barriers posed by the environment around them, hurdles in the society as a whole.
The physical and virtual environment around us has to be adaptive and barrier-free to cater to everyone’s needs. This brings us to the very term ‘accessibility’.
Meaning of ‘Accessibility’
The word ‘accessibility’ signifies ‘access for all’. It is more towards the rights perspective, whereby every person on this planet has a right to access the services and resources in an effective manner, and to his/ her fullest potential. It starts with our day-to-day places of importance –stairs, roads, pavements, government buildings, schools, shops and public transportation, amongst others. This concept starts with the physical infrastructure, and extends to the virtual environment as well, which includes websites, books, software’s, systems, files and records, etc. The concept can be further explained by asking ourselves some simple questions-how would a person on a wheelchair climb to a multi storied building if there are no ramps or elevators? Or how would a blind person navigate across huge buildings and broad roads without braillesignage? There are more than 7 crore persons with disabilities in the country, which constitutes considerable section of the society. This very concept has been raised by various disability rights organizations of the country, for decades now.
However, all the previous governments have turned a deaf ear to all the appeals made by persons with disabilities. Since the present government came into power, the Hon’ble Prime Minister highlighted the importance of needs of the disabled, in numerous addresses and ‘Mann kiBaat’.
Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan (Accessible India Campaign)
In December 2015, the Hon’ble Prime Minister launched the Accessible India Campaign, an ambitious move towards making at least 50% of all Government buildings in the national capital accessible by July, 2018. There are plans for making airports, railway stations and other transport facilities accessible too. Prime Minister, in his address also highlighted that all the smart cities proposed to be built up, must be 100% accessible for the disabled. The main thought behind this scheme is ‘the society has an obligation and a duty towards the persons with disabilities, and that the society must be inclusive for all the sections of it’. It isbased on the social model of disability, whereby disability is shaped in the way society is organized. The scheme is divided into 3 main verticals:
- Built Environment,
- Transport Systems,
- Information and Communication Technology.
The built environment vertical of the scheme aims at making at least 50% buildings of the National Capital Region and other state capital accessible by December, 2018; completing audit of at least 50% of all government buildings of 10 most important cities of the country, by December, 2019. By the end of 2015 itself, the Government had completed access audits of more than 1600 buildings, and proposals had been submitted to the state governments for fund allocations and other formalities. More than 45 crore had been released to the states for completing access audits under the scheme.
Under the transportation vertical of the scheme, aim was to make all the International Airports of the country fully accessible. Out of the 32 Airports of the country, 25 airports have been provided with all basic accessibility amenities like ramps, elevators, braillesignage, etc. For the most used public transport of the country-Railways, short term and long term plans had been made by the department of disability affairs in association with the Indian Railways. Under the short term scheme, standard ramps, accessible drinking water taps, non-slippery surfaces, etc. had been arranged at all the A and B class stations of the country. Aim is to make at least 10% of all government owned, public carriers of the country accessible by March, 2018.
As far as virtual accessibility is concerned, the scheme aims at making at least 50% of documents issued by the Central government accessible by March, 2018. The Prime Minister, in association with the Judiciary has highlighted the need of digitization of all the court records of the country, which would in turn facilitate the Accessible India Campaign. The Department of Disability Affairs has launched the SugamyaPustakalaya for providing accessible books for the print disabled.
Resources and Allocations for Accessible India Campaign
The Department has been organizing various awareness workshops in various cities explaining people about the campaign and its objectives. A web portal and an app have been created for people to get in touch with the department for accessibility issues. An app has been made for uploading pictures and details of inaccessible public spaces of the country. A list of empaneled Access Auditors is available on the website of the department. These auditors are authorized by the government to carry out accessible audits across the country. So far, even the Prime Minister’s Office and RashtrapatiBhavan have also gone through the accessible audits. The Prime Minister, for the first time in India, launched a unique index to measure private firms and companies on the scale of accessibility. Such private institutions will get credits for better accessibility index.
On the website of the department, any person can register for ‘Accessibility Request’ of any public building of the country. The department has launched the ‘DivyangSarathi Mobile Application’ providing all relevant information about persons with disabilities, and rules, legislations, laws, schemes benefiting them. The department also recognizes organizational stars and individual stars,in form of individuals and organizations for their contribution towards making India accessible. Specific funds have been allocated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for the scheme. Universities, government offices and other public departments are provided funds for carrying out accessibility audits, and making necessary changes in their infrastructure.
Importance of Accessible India Campaign
India is one of the first countries to have ratified the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). According to Article 9 of the Convention, “To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, 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.” Hence, India as a party to the convention has an obligation to make the country barrier free and inclusive for persons with disabilities. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 has laid down special emphasis on accessibility of physical and virtual infrastructure of the country, and has provided time frames for completion of the work.
The Prime Minister’s attention towards the disabled community and their needs is very well highlighted by the scheme. It is also important, when India aims to stand at par with various developed countries of the world; at the time when India aims to be an important power in the Asia- Pacific region. Various countries of the world including the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and other European countries have already achieved a greater level of accessibility standards. If the country wants to embark upon the journey of becoming a major power of the world, the development in terms of military and economy alone are not important. Social development and Social inclusion are also important tools in the 21st Century. The present government has taken this fact into consideration, and hence has launched this campaign towards making India accessible.
The progress, success or failure of this Scheme is always a matter of analysis. The important fact is the Government’s intention behind launching it; the significance that this scheme holds for a common disabled of the country. The ultimate goals of development can be achieved only by making the society inclusive. India has more than 7 crore of persons with disability today. Their rights and needs are an important factor for the State, and society as a whole. This Campaign is an important step towards strengthening the rights of persons with disabilities.
(Writer is an undergraduate student of law at the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar and a disability rights activist).