Plea in Madras HC seeks wide publicity to draft guidelines on accessibility

By PTI

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court on Friday issued notices to authorities concerned over a PIL petition seeking a direction to the central government to publish the draft “harmonized guidelines and standards for universal accessibility in India, 2021” in an accessible format and in vernacular languages.

The petitioner also wanted the officials to make printed copies available for inspection at designated offices, provide wide publicity in print and electronic media about the same and invite public comments for a minimum of 30 days.

A division bench of Justices T S Sivagnanam and Sathi Kumar Sukumara Kurup, before which the petition from city resident Vaishnavi Jayakumar came up, ordered notice to the authorities concerned, returnable by October 20.

The petitioner, who is a cross-disability rights advocate, living with psychosocial disability with over a decade’s work in fighting to dismantle the physical and attitudinal barriers that confront disabled Indians repeatedly, submitted that the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) in New Delhi had uploaded the draft “harmonized guidelines and standards for universal accessibility in India, 2021” with an office memorandum dated August 12.

It was not known when this draft was uploaded on the website of the CPWD.

The OM states the draft was being placed for public comments and that the responses may be submitted up to August 27 by e-mail.

The petitioner contended that the draft guidelines were not given wide publicity.

It was inaccessible to persons with disability on account of being non-screen reader compatible and was made available only in the English language.

Disabled persons were the best judges of what their needs were in terms of infrastructure, product design, accommodation and services.

“By failing to communicate in any manner that the harmonized guidelines were under review, that stakeholder consultations were being held prior to finalisation of the draft guidelines and that subject draft guidelines were placed in public domain for comments, the respondents had defeated the very purpose of this exercise. People for whose benefit the guidelines are being framed had been denied access to this consultative process. The entire thrust of the “nothing about us without us” philosophy has been lost,” the petitioner said.

She prayed that the court prevent the CPWD and the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs from releasing or publishing the final guidelines.

Her main prayer is for a direction to the two authorities to publish the draft guidelines in accessible format and in vernacular, make printed copies available for inspection at designated offices, provide wide publicity in print and electronic media about the draft guidelines and invite public comments for a minimum of 30 days.