Opining that the Delhi Government is "bent upon treating the disabled as non-existent, or, in any case not having any rights", the Delhi High Court has prohibited the Government from purchasing standard floor buses for the Capital, in view of these being inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
The Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar observed, "Procuring buses which are inaccessible to the disabled infracts the mandate of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, 2016 and the imperative and repeated directions of the Supreme Court not only is completely impermissible but also reflects callous apathy and gross indifference to environmental degradation as well as infringement of rights of the citizens of Delhi, under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, to a clean and healthy environment.
The actions of the respondents are in complete violation of the 'Harmonious Guidelines and Space Standards for Barrier Free Built Environment for Persons with Disabilities and Elder Persons’. It is also in violation of the right to road safety of the residents of Delhi as admitted by the respondents decades ago."
The Court is hearing a Petition filed by Mr. Nipun Malhotra, founder of the Nipman Foundation, which is actively involved in the field of disability rights. Mr. Malhotra himself has severe locomotor disability from birth, called "arthrogryposis", which is a medical condition which leads to a lack of muscles in his arms and legs and renders him permanently dependant on a wheelchair for basic mobility.
He has now challenged a Cabinet Decision taken in September last year, for the acquisition of standard floor buses, alleging that this deprives numerous persons with disabilities as well as senior citizens from accessing public transport.
During the hearing on 14 May, Senior Counsel Anand Grover, representing the Delhi Government, had assured the Court that no contract for standard floor buses would be awarded till the next date of hearing. The Delhi Government and the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) had now expressed difficulties in implementing the assurance, and had demanded permission to proceed with the acquisition of the buses.
At the outset, the Court considered international conventions and instruments, as well as judicial precedents to highlight the duty of the State towards persons with disabilities. Emphasizing on the importance of the issues posed before it, it observed, "The present matter is of seminal importance inasmuch as it raises issues of complete exclusion of persons with physical disabilities on account of the barriers posed by the existing public transport system despite international instrument including the convention of the rights of the Disabled of 2006; Beijing Declaration of 1992; the statutory recognition of the rights of the disabled upon enactment of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 as well as the repeated pronouncements on the subject."
The Court then found it astonishing that despite the mandate of the United Nations Convention for Rights of the Persons With Disabilities, 2006, DTC sought to "avoid its responsibility" by insisting on using standard floor buses. It went on to rap the Delhi Government for not having taken any steps to make public transport accessible for persons with disabilities, observing,
"The first writ petition is pending since September 2017. We have called upon the respondents repeatedly to place their proposals for procuring accessible transport. In almost eight months, the respondents have taken no steps to even commence the planning, let alone the tendering process. It is noteworthy that, in comparison the respondents are undertaking herculean efforts to procure the standard floor buses. Procuring of low floor buses by the respondents, therefore, seems to be a very remote possibility. It is certainly at the bottom of their priorities."
The Court further rejected the submission that the Government was only required to make 10% of the bus fleet accessible to the disabled. It asserted, "There is no disability census available or a census in terms of geographic distribution of the disabled population at all for the respondents to undertake any meaningful planning or rationalization, if the same was legally permissible, which it clearly is not.
Accepting the submission that only 10% of the buses are required to be made disabled friendly would mean endorsement of the position that the disabled could follow no employment schedules. Their entire schedules are to be governed by the schedule of the 10% accessible public transport which the DTC and the respondents are willing to provide."
It then precluded the Delhi Government from procuring any standard floor mini buses, and listed the matter on 16 July.