As a citizen of India, a passport is Vikram Chaddha’s (name changed as he is employed with central government) right. But the route to the passport office located in Bhikaji Cama Place is not an easy one for him.
The wheelchair-bound Chaddha, 23, could not reach on time for his passport interview because the office was not accessible to people like him.The building houses over 300 government and corporate offices.
About 21 million people (roughly around 2% of the population) are estimated to be suffering from disability in India, according to Census of India, 2011.
Despite this, most important buildings — passport offices, post offices, courts, banks — in Delhi, the national Capital, are inaccessible to them.
A recent survey of the Bhikaji Cama Place complex conducted by NGO Swayam showed how all ramps made in 2005 to make the building accessible to the wheelchair-bound are lying wasted, in the most decrepit condition.
The building houses the passport office, Central Informational Commission, National Green Tribunal, PNB, Syndicate Bank and Engineers India Limited and other offices.
"The pedestrian pathways around the building are broken, uneven and in discontinuity. So a wheelchair-bound person cannot find the way around as he will get stuck in the breakages," said Chaddha, who met with an accident 10 years ago and is now a paraplegic.
"Even the visually challenged can't find their way inside," he said.
Even within the Bhikaji Cama Place, the internal pathways are very badly designed. They are so narrow in some places that even an able-bodied person has to climb down to the road to go ahead. There are no signages and so a user doesn’t know where to look for ramps. And if they manage to find an entry, the ramps are cluttered with garbage. Often, the entry points to ramps are blocked by parked cars.
Dr Satyendra Singh, assistant professor of physiology at Guru Tegh Bahadur Hospital in east Delhi, had asked the postal department to provide data about accessibility to various post offices for the disabled.
In response, the south postal division claimed 65 of their 67 post offices, were “barrier-free”. The west postal division too claimed ‘all the post offices were easily accessible and barrier-free’.
However, the ground scenario is completely different and people like Singh, who himself is wheelchair-bound, find it difficult to access post offices. “The post offices in posh colonies like Gulmohar Park, Lodi Road, Defence Colony and Greater Kailash are inaccessible. Once can imagine the situation in east Delhi ,” he said.The situation is no different at the Delhi High Court. The reception is out of bounds for the physically challenged. "Every time I go there, I have had a tough time. I can’t go without an assistant," said Javed Abidi, a disabled right activist.
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