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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014

Disabled be damned, Municipal Corporation fails to get act together

Hillary Victor, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, June 21, 2013
First Published: 11:10 IST(21/6/2013) | Last Updated: 11:21 IST(21/6/2013)

Leave aside helping the physically challenged and the elderly, the Chandigarh municipal corporation does not even know the guidelines -- provided under a law passed by Parliament 17 years ago -- that stipulate a disabled-friendly environment. In response to a Right to Information (RTI) application, the MC has in turn asked the applicant to provide a copy of the guidelines.

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The central government had put in place the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1996, and made it mandatory for municipal bodies to follow guidelines given therein. In 1998, the central public works department (CPWD) issued guidelines.
 
But when nominated councilor Surinder Bahga sought to know the status of implementation, he got this reply: "It is intimated that no such guidelines have been found in the copy of the act. Therefore you are requested to provide the copy of the relevant portion from the act."

As per the guidelines, the MC should specify basic infrastructural provision that need to be incorporated in new buildings to make them convenient for the disabled. Accordingly, all local authorities must update their building codes. Further, before giving permissions of construction, civic bodies should ensure provision of step-less system for easy access to buildings, lifts for free access to upper floors, adequate doors width for wheelchair entry, and accessible toilets.
 
Little Implimentation
But a random check on the ground reveals the lack of a disabled-friendly, barrier-free environment.
 
Of the 33 community centres under the MC, only two, in Sector 8 and 16, have ramps. The bus stops do not have any such infrastructure at all, nor do the parks.

Bahga said, "In some cities, redesign and retrofitting is done to make the existing buildings and roads friendly to the disabled. Here, the MC has not done anything of that sort, and not even planned for the future. Even when they get drawings from the chief architect for approval, the officials never bother to ensure that provisions of the law are followed."

Shani Kumar, a physically challenged student of architecture at Chandigarh, said, "We face a lot of difficulty as most parts of the city do not have ramps. For instance, though the authorities have constructed a ramp in the Sector-9 market, it is very steep and slippery."

When contacted, mayor Subhash Chawla said, "It is not possible that MC does not have the guidelines, but I will look into the matter."

But Harman Sidhu, president of NGO ArriveSafe, remains distraught that even Chandigarh, one of the youngest and best planned cities, fails when it comes to "real accessibility". "If one has to meet the administrator in his office, a wheelchair-bound or a disable person cannot do without scaling 8-10 stairs with the help of securitymen, who are thankfully kind enough. Even the building of the MC, the agency which is supposed to make the city's public areas wheelchair-accessible, itself lacks basic features," Sidhu said.

--
Some of the key guidelines 
* 2 rows of guiding blocks for persons with impaired vision 300mm away from the bus stop pole on the sidewalk
* If the approach pathway is parallel to a road for vehicles, enhance the safety of pedestrians by installing guard rails
*For wheelchair users, sudden level differences from taxi (or bus) stand to road be eliminated
* Pathways/ramps of non-slip material; at places where there is a difference in level, such as where staircases meet floors, appearance of surface be changed using colour contrast
*Reservation or information counters should have unobstructed approaches for wheelchair users; counter heights should not be in excess of 850mm
* Install a ramp for approach into building, lift for upper floors; two guiding blocks for persons with impaired vision, 300mm from the lift-call button
*Toilet and washstand be suitable for wheelchair users
* Wherever applicable, at least one ticket/coupon gate wide enough to allow wheelchair users to pass through easily

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