The Supreme Court today asked probing questions to the AAP government and the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) over their intention to purchase 2,000 standard-floor cluster buses, which are not friendly to differently-abled persons.
The top court asked the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government to explain by tomorrow, whether it intends to make these cluster buses friendly to differently-abled persons by fitting them with hydraulic lifts. The Delhi government informed the court that a tender floated on March 16 by the DTC for procurement of 1,000 standard-floor buses is most likely to be scrapped as only one bidder has come forward. A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan was told by the government that it would fit hydraulic lifts in each bus for wheel chair bound differently abled persons, which would entail a total cost of around Rs 80-90 crores.
“The first question is why are you purchasing these buses which are not according to the harmonized guidelines. It is understandable that cluster buses would be plying in rural areas or sub-urban areas where the road conditions are not good, then why is the DTC going to purchase the 1,000 buses,” the bench asked. The top court, further questioned as to why all 2,000 buses are standard-floor buses and not low-floor buses. “If you would have said that 1,000 or 1,500 low-floor buses are being purchased and rest buses you are not able to procure. Then this argument is acceptable. But you want all 2,000 buses as standard-floor is not acceptable,” the bench said.
Senior advocate Dhruv Mehta, appearing for the Delhi government and the DTC said he had spoken to the transport minister who informed him that a decision has been taken to purchase additional 500 low-floor buses which will be friendly to differently abled persons. He said that this decision of procuring additional 500 buses will be placed before the cabinet soon, as government intends to increase the fleet of public transport buses. Mehta argued that the high court had erred in staying the tender for purchase of 2,000 standard-floor buses as they have met all required criterions.
“According to the Delhi High Court order, only low floor public transport buses can be procured all over the country after the December 15, 2017 verdict of apex court on making transport disable friendly,” he said, adding that at present Delhi has a fleet of 5,400 buses, including cluster buses, and there is urgent need to augment the public transport bus fleet. The senior lawyer pointed out that the “Harmonious Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elder Persons” was issued by the Ministry of Urban Development and not the Ministry of Road and Transport. He said that the high court has relied on these harmonized guidelines to stay the tenders for procurement of standard-floor buses. Mehta said that as far as the DTC tender for procurement of 1000 buses was concerned, it is most likely to be scrapped as only one bidder has come forward and a fresh tender will be issued. “Delhi has a peculiar problem that the buses here has to be low floor and CNG-compliant while in other states it is not so and they can have low-floor buses without CNG,” he said.
Mehta pointed out that the Centre in its reply before the high court, which was filed before the apex court verdict of December, 2017, has said that only 10 per cent of total public transport buses has to be low-floor. He said that cluster buses will be plying through the sub-urban areas and rural areas of the national capital, where the road condition is not as good as it is in the city.
The bench, after perusing the routes of cluster said that all the routes have metallic roads. Advocate Jai Dehadrai, appearing for Nipun Malhotra, who suffers from locomotor disability and filed a PIL before the high court, said the Delhi government was trying to subvert the law and the apex court’s order by going for standard-floor buses. He said the Mehta’s argument about rural road conditions for procurement of standard-floor buses is absurd, as both the standard buses and low-floor buses have same level of ground clearances.
“These standard-floor buses are actually buses on the chasis of truck and they are not at all friendly to differently-abled people,” Dehadrai said. He said the government is talking about fitting hydraulic lifts but these cluster buses hardly stop at a bus stops, leave apart opening the hydraulic lift for wheel chaired person. The bench, said that it may send the matter back to the high court to finally decide the issue, as the Delhi government has approached the apex court on the basis of interim order. It asked the counsel for the Delhi government to file affidavit with regard to fitting hydraulic lifts in cluster buses for the convenience of differently abled persons.
The high court had on June 1, pulled up the AAP government for “not taking a single step for ensuring accessible transport” for disabled persons in the national capital and restrained it from procuring standard-floor buses as it impedes their mobility. It had said that government is bent upon “treating the disabled as non-existent, or, in any case not having any rights”.