Tarlochan Singh Bhatia, 47, needs crutches to walk. Despite his disability, Bhatia has been the proud breadwinner of his family for the past 19 years.
But lately his self-assurance has given way to a mix of anxiety and insecurity . Before the month ends, the phone booth he runs at the New Delhi Railway Station will be allotted to someone else. <b1>
The Railway Board has scrapped the scheme under which the disabled were allotted phone booths. "The agreement ends on April 27. The ministry has refused to extend it. I cannot think of anything beyond this booth. I have no other means of livelihood,"says Bhatia.
The booths were allotted under a central scheme to rehabilitate the disabled in 1981, the International Year of the Disabled. Like Bhatia, there are about 10,000 other booth owners across the country For all of them, this will be the cruellest April of their lives.
Vayalar Ravi, minister for overseas affairs, had written to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in November 2006 seeking an extension for the disabled booth owners. In his reply on February 26, 2007, Lalu said: "There is no proposal for further extension of the contracts of these booth holders."
Girish Menon, 48, who runs a phone booth at Ernakulam railway station, told HT: "If they don't extend our contracts, we are doomed." As general secretary of the Indian Railway Public Telephone Booth Holders Association (Handicapped Persons), Menon had also petitioned the railway minister in March to reconsider the vacation notices. However, ministry sources confirmed that the decision was unlikely to change.