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Is Pune an all-inclusive city? HT finds out

Twenty-four year old Diksha Dinde, on her way to Malaysia this month for a global summit, was stopped from leaving Mumbai airport, on account of her disability.

pune Updated: Dec 25, 2017 15:44 IST
Ananya Barua
Ananya Barua
Hindustan Times, Pune
Diksha Dinde, a person with a disability, is carried down the strategies at the PMC main building because the structure does not have a ramp which Diksha could access on her wheelchair.(Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO)

Twenty-four year old Diksha Dinde, on her way to Malaysia this month for a global summit, was stopped from leaving Mumbai airport, on account of her disability. “Airline officials did not let me travel alone and asked me to call my mother, who was halfway to Pune by that time. They said they didn’t want to take the risk of me travelling alone, despite me being an adult and completely capable of doing so,” she says.

Orthopaedically challenged Dinde is India’s first differently-abled Global Youth Ambassador for the United Nations and was travelling to the Sustainable Development Goals business summit 2017, to present her report on inclusive education. She graduated from Hujurpaga college in business administration and now, is pursuing a masters in history from Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou).

Speaking with Hindustan Times, she shares her experience to explain the current situation of accessibility in the country and the city.

Stating that this experience is not an isolated one, she says, “Last year, I went to watch a match at the Balewadi stadium with friends and the security rudely told us that we had to carry our own wheelchair if I wanted to get inside. This was despite the fact that wheelchairs were available at the stadium. We had to go through a lot of altercations at different stages. By the end of the day, a police officer walked up to me and said, ‘Why on earth do you want to roam around if you are on a wheelchair?’ .”

Pune, a city on its way to becoming ‘Smart’ is yet to be inclusive, a number of differently-abled individuals have claimed. This was further substantiated when a visit to government buildings in the city, revealed a lack of basic accessible infrastructure.

While on one hand, the building of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has elevators, ramps for wheelchairs were not present. Similar was the case at the police commissioner’s office near Sadhu Vaswani Chowk, which not only lacked tactile paving and ramps at the entrance, but also did not have an elevator facility.

The district court near Shivajinagar was the third building visited by HT, which revealed a lack of elevators. Only the main building had an external ramp. None of the buildings had any sort of accessibility signage or even differently-abled friendly toilets on the premises, despite the mandate under the accessible India campaign.

The main cause behind the lacuna, some differently-abled individuals claim, is a lack of sensitivity and the problem of a mentality which still views the differently abled with either pity or disgrace.

“Many still feel that blind people like us, either should stay indoors or are capable of simply begging on the streets. We don’t want to do either, we want to be independent and for that all we need is a positive inclusive outlook with some window of opportunity,” says 23-year-old Vicky Kumar Shetty, who wants to become a radio-jockey and has done an internship with Radio Mirchi.

“I am not the girl on the wheelchair, but on the ‘wing chair’. That is how I want people to look at me,” adds Dinde.

Talking about the condition of the city, especially in terms of transport, Shetty rues, “Conductors and bus drivers are very insensitive, they don’t event stop for us to get down or board the bus. Recently, a blind student fell from the bus because of this.”

Shetty also alleges bus drivers deliberately turn off the location sensor voice message indicator, despite its presence being a government mandate. Complaints have been made, in vain. In addition to this, lack of ramps and space for wheelchairs on buses are other issues that differently abled individuals face every day.

What the city bosses says on accessible facilities

PMC commissioner Kunal Kumar

“We have finalised new accessible street design guidelines to include disabled friendly footpaths with proper ramps, tactile paving, etc. Our Smart City plan is also aligned to this cause and so henceforth, whatever infrastructure is built, it will be accessible to the differently abled. This is regarding the new developments. Those that are old, we are still trying to find ways around them to make them more accessible. Also, last month we had a workshop to sensitise our engineers and architects about the guidelines of barrier-free architecture. These are going to increase to make a substantial change. For transport as well, new buses are to be equipped with ramps, handrails and proper space for the differently abled, but making changes to the old buses is difficult and time consuming.”

PMRDA commissioner Kiran Gitte

“The 50 townships that PMRDA is creating will be accessible and absolutely inclusive as per government norms. For all the differently abled, apartments at the ground floors will be reserved and all the buildings will have ramps. In case, we are not able to provide them flats on the ground floor, then they will be given accommodation in G+4 buildings with lifts. All the public places from footpaths to public buildings will have all the needed facilities. With respect to the Metro, all the elevated Metro stations will have lifts, while the at-grade (AG) stations will be equipped with ramps. These stations will be built on more than 50,000 square feet of area and will have all needed facilities to be accessible, including special accessible toilets for the differently abled. The norms are already being applied for public buildings to be accessible. Although many old ones don’t have it, the new buildings will definitely have it .”

Rajendra Jagtap, chief executive officer, Smart City Project

“The plans for Smart city have been made keeping in mind barrier free accessible infrastructure. For instance, all the future roads will be built on single levels only. For, visually-impaired individuals, we will have a special tactile paving line, and a permanent lane on the footpaths to avoid any instance of imbalance. Further, out of the total 52 public toilets planned under the Smart City, 18 of them will be specially made for the differently abled adhering to the guidelines. Also, under place-making project of Bookzenia, we have partnered with TCS Nashik for a book scanning equipment, that will transform books into audiobooks. We will also have a good bank of braille books there. On January 22 we will run the first trial in Pune, in English and Marathi. With time we want to explore other languages as well.”

“In terms of transport, we will have E-buses, which will be low point buses with low access points, designated spaces for wheelchairs, and audio announcement of stops. Also, the smart bus stops will have the information of timing and buses both on screen and audio announcement. Following the infrastructure, we also want to organize sensitisation workshops for the conductors, and bus drivers, etc with respect to accessibility.”

First Published: Dec 25, 2017 15:42 IST