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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Road blocks, poles, trees stand in way of Gurugram becoming disabled-friendly

Private buildings in Gurugram score over government offices when it comes to infrastructure for the differently abled, show surveys.

gurugram Updated: Dec 03, 2019 06:23 IST
Sonali Verma
Sonali Verma
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
A physically challenged man tries to cross a road, Sheetla Mata road, near bus stand, in Gurugram,  Friday, 29 November 2019.
A physically challenged man tries to cross a road, Sheetla Mata road, near bus stand, in Gurugram, Friday, 29 November 2019. (Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

For Roshan Kumar, a visually challenged 30-year-old from Gurugram’s Khandsa village, the biggest impediment to working here isn’t his impairment, but the fear of navigating a city which is not accepting of him. Kumar says he hopes for a day when he doesn’t have to take assistance from a willing bystander or police personnel to cross the road or simply walk in a park. He says he could more have been more independent and empowered had the roads and footpaths been accessible.

Kumar is just one of the thousands of differently abled people in Gurugram, a city that is nowhere near achieving complete accessibility, according to several audits over the last few years. Although the 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act mandates disabled-friendly infrastructure at all government buildings and aims to boost rights and access, the reality on the ground is very different. Barriers to accessibility in the city range from either blocked or no wheelchair ramps, buildings without lifts, inaccessible toilets, and shops without step-free access. Several city neighbourhoods have no pavements at all, tactile paths are blocked by trees or poles and foot over-bridges lack access to lifts and ramps.

Messing with existing infra

In November, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) placed jersey barriers at the entry and exit points of all the six-foot over-bridges on the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, blocking access for people using wheelchairs. The change, as per the NHAI, was done to prevent motorcyclists from using the bridges and received criticism from people with disabilities, including Paralympic athlete Deepa Malik, who says it denied them their right to accessibility.

The foot overbridges feature in a long list of public spaces in Gurugram that have remained inaccessible over the years and lack mandated infrastructure.

Kumar, an employee at a general store in Sector 38, has to cross NH-48 every day. The road’s footpath, however, doesn’t have tactile strips or Braille signage. The subway he uses to cross the road has railings on both sides, but an uneven floor and no tactile pavement causing impediments.

According to the Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority’s (GMDA) draft comprehensive mobility plan, only 28% of the city’s roads have footpaths. Areas such as Badshahpur, Narsinghpur, areas beyond Dwarka Expressway and new sectors 34, 36, 37, 53, 61, 49, 50 are completely devoid of footpaths, it states. The plan further notes that around 25-30% of the available footpath area has been encroached upon by trees, poles, street vendors, etc.

An audit of Gurugram’s 125 prominent buildings, done by the Spastic Society of Gurgaon in 2016, had found that none of them had facilities, such as ramps with railings, disabled-friendly toilets, and reserved parking slots. The buildings included the Mini Secretariat near Rajiv Chowk, the passport office in Udyog Vihar, the Sadar Bazaar post office and the Central excise department.

Visits to the Mini Secretariat revealed the absence of a tactile pathway outside the entrance. Inside the building, tactile pathways were found to be often obstructed by glass doors, potted plants, and other objects. Barring a few areas, tactile pathways are largely missing from the various floors of the secretariat complex. There are no ramps in the entire building and lifts often malfunction. Last Tuesday too, two lifts at the building were non-functional for several hours. Officials at the Mini Secretariat say they weren’t sure when the elevators started working again.

Planning the city inclusively

“It seems like there was no thought put into planning the city inclusively. Constructing facilities for the disabled was an afterthought when buildings and roads were made,” Nitin Goyal, a resident of Gurugram for 22 years, says.

He says the markets in Gurugram’s newer sectors have no ramps and slopes, and the shops are unreachable for a wheelchair-user.

Goyal leads an independent life—he works at a multinational firm in Cyber City that has the required infrastructure to support his daily life. Yet every time he wants to go out for a movie or a social event, he has to plan ahead and make sure he is home in not more than four hours. “It’s embarrassing to admit this. None of the malls or other public spaces here have accessible washrooms. Public toilets are a nightmare,” he says. As per guidelines of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, unisex accessible toilets should be located as close to the entrance of the building as possible, and should have internal dimensions of not less than 2,000 mm into 2,200 mm, be equipped with a door at least 1,000 mm wide, should have slip-resistant flooring, accessible washbasins and drinking water outlets, among other criteria.

While Gurugram’s Metro stations claim to provide a barrier-free environment for persons with disability—they have lifts, wheelchairs, tactile strips, signage in Braille—access to the stations is an issue.

An access audit of the Huda City Centre Metro done under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s Accessible India Campaign in 2016 found no tactile orientation for the visually impaired from the main gate to the entry of the station. It noted the uneven surface with rocks and bricks was a hindrance and suggested installing a kerb ramp on the pathway through the entrance. While the entrance to the building had a ramp, it had no supporting handrails and no tactile orientation, the audit found.

A Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) spokesperson says the area outside Metro stations doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction. However, those who need assistance can call the DMRC helpline at 155370 and ask for a wheelchair/support from the DMRC staff, the spokesperson added.

The audit was also done at Gurugram’s only bus stand in Sector 12, a building that was declared unsafe by the Public Works Department (PWD) in 2015. Apart from the usual lack of tactile strips and signage, the bus stand didn’t have a public announcement system. “The height of the ticket counter is 1,050mm with no knee space, making it inaccessible for wheelchair users. The height should be 750mm,” the audit report stated.

Even the city’s countable public parks and stadia are out of reach for several with disabilities, the city hangout Leisure Valley Park in Sector 29 and the Nehru Stadium being examples. “Leisure Valley has no ramps, only steps. The entry gate is narrow and only those who walk can get inside. This must have been done to make sure motorcycles and cycles don’t go in, but at the cost of accessibility,” Navin Gulia, who was injured while in the Army and uses a wheelchair to move around, says.

The Nehru Stadium in Civil Lines has seen many successful sportspersons over the years; however, its interiors and sports equipment/infrastructure are mostly broken and need repairs.

In 2016, a gymnast, who wishes to remain anonymous, suffered a neck injury during practice, allegedly due to a broken platform. The gymnast was 18 then and had to undergo multiple surgeries.

However, upon rejoining practice, he found the stadium, apart from being largely broken, was also inaccessible in most areas.

“I was using a walking aid and couldn’t climb the stadium’s stairs as they had no handrail for support,” he says.

The Accessible India audit also found that the stadium had no reserved parking for the disabled and that the toilets were inaccessible.

Accessibility only for a few

Deepa Malik, who moved to Gurugram from Delhi in search of better infrastructure to support her disability, says she was lucky to find accessible spaces in and around her condominium in DLF 1. “The area I am in is mostly accessible. The shopping complex near the condominium too has lifts and ramps. Having said that, when I go out of the area, I have come across inaccessible footpaths and roads,” she says, adding that all citizens should raise the issue of inaccessibility, not just a select few.

Disability surveys in Gurugram have found many condominiums and shopping malls here have ramps, elevators and other infrastructure to support people. However, accessing those remains an issue.

GMDA officials say they have plans to construct disabled-friendly footpaths on the new roads being made. “At the Shankar Chowk road, Shyam road and other new roads being made, footpaths will have tactile walkways and ramps. The aim is to make all roads disabled-friendly in the city soon. Existing roads will also be modified,” Jitender Mittal, chief engineer, GMDA. says. He adds that the footpath at Shankar Chowk road should be ready early next year. However, he didn’t comment on why this was not done earlier.

Officials at the district social justice and empowerment department say 42 public buildings in the district are being made disabled-friendly including Mini Secretariat, Vikas Sadan and Sector 14’s government college. “A few of these buildings have been equipped with ramps and tactile walkways. Work in others is going on,” Sarfaraz Khan, district social welfare officer, says.

People with disabilities face discrimination when housing, employment, transport and other essential services are not accessible, sociologists say. This exclusion limits educational and employment opportunities, leading to fewer people with disabilities in the public forum and in policy-making. “Raising awareness and improving attitudes towards access through events, discussions, and campaigns become important for these reasons,” AR Ansari, a sociologist at a private university, says.

Arman Ali, disability rights activist and executive director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP), says Gurugram attracts investment and business and should therefore lead by example in following the norms. “Employers must adhere to the equal opportunity policy that mandates easy accessibility. But there’s little compliance as of now,” he says, adding that disability needs to be viewed from a more holistic perspective. “Making a ramp here and there won’t solve much unless disability is looked at by policy-makers as a fundamental right,” Ali says.