Lack of facilities for differently abled persons in the Indian Railways today prompted the Delhi High Court to ask the Centre about the measures in place. The high court said there were “special needs of every nature of disability which the railways has to take into consideration”. A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar on its own initiated a PIL on the issue after coming across a report that the door of a special compartment for disabled was shut and such a youth missed his MPhil test at the Delhi University. Terming the report as an eye opener, the bench remarked that even the Delhi University (DU) did not pay attention to the ordeal of the student Vaibhav Shukla, telling him that they cannot help him.
As per the news report, the student had attempted to board the Gorakhdham Express operated by the North-Eastern Railway at the Unnao railway station in Uttar Pradesh on July 5 to appear in the entrance exam for the MPhil course for the current year conducted by the DU. When he tried to board the coach reserved for disabled persons which was next to the engine, the persons who were occupying the compartment refused to open the door which remained closed, it said.
The other coach reserved for the disabled was placed at the other end of the train and Shukla could not reach it, the bench noted in its order. “This newspaper report highlights the difficulties which are being faced by the disabled persons in accessing even the coaches which are designated to be used by them. “It also manifests that the railway authorities are not only not posting any personnel in the coaches earmarked for the disabled to ensure their rights and to assist them to board the train, but are also permitting able persons to occupy these reserved coaches which prevents them from being utilised for the benefit of the special persons for whom they are intended,” it said.
“Indian passenger trains have several bogies and sometimes the first and the last coaches are way beyond the length of the small platforms. “The height of the coach from the ground by itself at such end-points would be such that it would be daunting even for any person to board it. The inaccessibility of the railways as a mode of transport for the disabled would thus be unimaginable,” the high court noted. It said the railways have not addressed the special needs of persons with disabilities. “It could have been a physically handicapped person in a wheelchair or one who is bed-ridden who was attempting to board. It does not appear as if railway coaches have accesses which would enable wheelchair or a person in a stretcher to access into and passage through the coach,” the court said. While asking the authorities to file a disability-wise status report within ten days, the high court said even the structure of the coaches are such that there is no room for manoeuvring a wheelchair/stretcher within the coach and consequently a person who is bed-ridden would never be able to even enter the first berth in the coach.
“We are also not aware of any specially designated areas for waiting for the disabled or any special manpower assigned for such purpose. Perhaps, if the above aspects had been noted, Vaibhav Shukla would have been able to reach Delhi to participate in the examination,” it said. It said that the peculiar facts and circumstances, the matter deserves the attention of the Delhi University as well. The bench sought to know from the varsity by July 11 whether they can conduct an examination for Shukla to enable him to secure admission if he qualified for the course and the session for which he had applied. It also sought to know from the Railways ministry and the North-Eastern Railways, why there should not be a facility enabling railway officials, including the driver and the guard of the train, to open and have access to a railway compartment from outside the coach.
“This would be essential in case any tragedy had befell the occupants of a railway coach and there were no person in the position of assisting opening of the coach from inside the train,” the court said. It also suggested that the act of the persons occupying a disabled carriage may be even a penal offence. “We need to be informed about this aspect on the next date of hearing, July 24,” the bench added. It also wished examine the aspect of compensation for the boy who has undergone so much trauma for the callous disregard of his rights. The bench asked the authorities to inform it about the action they have taken against the persons who were occupying the coach for the disabled in the Gorakhdham Express in the early hours of July 5, 2017.