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Kerala's disability rights groups gear up to challenge unjust road transport authorities

Disability rights groups in Kerala are all set to take on mighty state road transport authorities over a recent move over blocking access to disabled passengers. That is the focus on Story of the Week.

When it comes to inclusion, Kerala government authorities usually get a thumbs up, but the Kerala Urban Road Transport Corporation (KURTC) is in the dock for a step that is insensitive and discriminatory.

Until now, the KURTC low floor buses were wheelchair accessible. Then in January this year, authorities decided to remove the facilities for keeping wheelchairs inside the buses. The exclusive spaces were taken out and wheelchair ramps removed. To make matters worse, they have now gone and blocked the doors through which wheelchair users could enter the bus. This has infuriated people from the disabled community.

Despite repeated complaints, no action has been taken. Instead authorities are passing the buck, says Jomy Joseph, a leading disability rights activist in the state and an active member of the All Kerala Wheelchair Rights Federation (AKWRF). Joseph says barring wheelchair users from access to public transport is a clear violation of the law.

The Supreme Court of India and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 clearly states that disabled people must be provided with accessibility in public transport. The way KURTC management is handling the issue is a threat to inclusion and diversity. Members of AKRWF had discussions with concerned authorities. But they are passing the buck saying that they are unaware of what is happening. We live in a democracy and there is a huge population of people with disabilities in our country. When the government themselves cannot help us out, then who can? How are we supposed to get justice? What is happening now is highly condemnable. -Jomy Joseph, Disability rights activist

The low floor buses run by KURTC, which come under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), are the only mode of comfortable public transport for wheelchair users. Now people who rely on buses for their daily commute are greatly inconvenienced.

Mohammad Rabeeh, also a disability rights activist says he held a few discussions with KURTC authorities, but they went nowhere.

"The last time we spoke to officials, they said that they would do all that they can to ensure smooth travel for wheelchair users. Now, they have gone and put bars at doors through which wheelchair users could enter. What kind of injustice is this? If KURTC officials do not abide by the law, we plan to go on strike", says Rabeeh.

KURTC say they took away the seats for wheelchair users as there was no space for non-disabled passengers, a baffling and bizarre explanation that seems to suggest that some people's needs take priority over others.

ALSO READ: Kerala government introduces exclusive courts to handle cases for disabled people

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