Heritage Conservation cannot impede disabled people’s access to court, said the bench.
Justice GS Patel of the Bombay High Court made some significant observations while hearing a suit filed by one Harish Manilal Shah and asked the HC Registry to take note of the same.
The defendant in the suit, Jayaben is 96 years old and is in a wheelchair. Her counsel, Farahan Dubash filed an application under Order XVIII Rule 16 of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 for Jayaben’s evidence to be led first, de bene esse, even before that of the Plaintiff. This application was allowed on February 10, 2017.
Jayaben’s evidence was to be taken this April 26, but because Justice Patel’s courtroom, ie. Court Room 37 is not wheelchair accessible, he put in a request with the High Court administration to shift to Court Room 46, which is wheelchair accessible.
Needless to say, permission was granted but Justice Patel recorded his displeasure in the order asking the HC registry to “immediately place the matter before the committee or sub-committee concerned for its consideration as to how to implement wheelchair access to all court rooms in this building.”
Noting that Jayaben “would have been subjected to an undeserved indignity in public view” if she were to be physically carried into the witness box which is on an elevated podium in his courtroom, Justice Patel made the following observations-
“I was compelled to seek administrative permission to shift to Court Room No. 46, which is wheelchair accessible, for the day to accommodate the 1st Defendant. That permission was readily granted. That is not the point. I should not have had to seek any such permission. I see no reason at all why every single court room in this building should not be reasonably accessible to those with a mobility impairment or difficulty.
While I readily accept the need for heritage conservation, I cannot accept — and I imagine no court can either — that heritage conservation should impede the access to court of those with physical disabilities. That is surely contrary to every known canon of access to justice and to established constitutional rights. No litigant should be subjected to the indignity of having to struggle up needless steps or have to be physically carried into a court. Every court must, at a minimum, be wheelchair accessible.“
These directions are only befitting at this time with the Rights of persons with Disabilities Act coming into force last year and the Supreme Court’s direction to the States to follow the pro-disabled laws meticulously.
Read the Order here.