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Physically challenged activist sues airline

When Shivani Gupta (38), a wheelchair-bound Delhi resident, took an Indian flight to Mumbai on June 16, she was not prepared for what lay ahead. Neha Bhayana has the details.

india Updated: Jul 25, 2008 01:15 IST
Neha Bhayana

When Shivani Gupta (38), a wheelchair-bound Delhi resident, took an Indian flight to Mumbai on June 16, she was not prepared for what lay ahead.

Not only was she physically carried to her flight seat in Delhi, because there was no narrow wheelchair for the aircraft’s aisle, she was also charged Rs 1,685 for an ambulift, (a van with a special lift for the disabled) to board the return flight from Mumbai.

Gupta, an activist for the rights of the physically challenged, filed a complaint against Indian, the Mumbai International Airport Limited and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The Office of the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, vested with powers of a civil court to hear complaints regarding the rights of the physically challenged, issued a show-cause notice to the authorities concerned.

“I felt humiliated and helpless when I was carried by the staff. They were not trained to handle people with disabilities and I sustained bruises on my shoulders. I could not use the toilet because there was no aisle chair,” said Gupta.

An Indian spokesperson said: “We provided a free ambulift at Delhi airport because we have our own service there. But in Mumbai, we had to hire an ambulift from the airport authority. Since they charged us for it, we had to recover the cost from the passenger,” said Jitendra Bhargava, Air India’s director (communications).

According to a May 1 directive from DGCA, charges may be levied for human assistance but the use of aids and appliances to access the aircraft are to be provided free to physically challenged passengers. The fact that Indian charged Gupta Rs 1,685 for the ambulift was in direct breach of this directive.

Gupta had pointed out the directive to the airline staff. “But the staff told me that they had not received any written information about the new law,” she said.

Spokesperson for Mumbai International Airport Limited Manish Kalghatgi said: “Facilitation of passage to the aircraft is the responsibility of the airline, not us.”

When Bhargava was asked why a narrow wheelchair was not available for the aircraft’s aisle, he said: “When passengers can’t go up to their seats, they are escorted. Since the passenger has made a complaint, we will argue the case when the hearing takes place.”