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Railways' refusal to accept UDID cards underlines larger apathy towards disabled passengers

Our Story of the Week on NewzHook is on the struggles faced by disabled passengers while using the services of the Indian Railways. The lack of accessible infrastructure apart, the refusal to accept UDID cards when it comes to travel concessions is yet another problem. Today the Delhi High Court will hear a petition challenging this move of the Railways'.

The purpose of the Unique Disability Identity Card (UDID) is to enable every disabled person in India to have easy, hassle free access to various government schemes and benefits.

Its the outcome of a long, hard fought battle between activists and authorities, a reality that in the words of National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) comes after "persistent efforts and years of advocacy".

Now this national-level cross disability rights group is fighting another battle over UDID, this time with the Indian Railways which is issuing separate ID cards to disabled people for availing concessions.

This, NPRD says, defeats the very purpose of the UDID, which is to serve as a universal ID across India and all government departments for people with disabilities so they can avoid the hassle and harassment of getting separate certificates or cards for availing every government scheme.

The NPRD has filed a petition before the Delhi High Court challenging this move saying that it violates Article 14 as well as other fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and restricts and creates a barrier in the enjoyment of amities of life by the disabled.

The move to file the petition came after repeated appeals to Railways Ministry. They did not respond to any of our letters and they have given absolutely no thought in making such a move. - Muralidharan Vishwanath, General Secretary, National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled

In the absence of a universal ID card, the struggles faced by the disabled community were many as various government agencies and departments have their own formats and certificates to avail of schemes. This is how the idea of the UDID was born - one card for all Indian citizens, pan-India and valid across all government departments and different purposes.

By issuing a separate card, the Railways is also violating provisions of the RPWD Act 2016 and working at cross purposes with the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which issued the UDID.

Petition finds support

The petition has found widespread support in the disabled community and underlines the larger apathy shown by the Railways.

Take the uproar on social media just a few days ago after a letter by Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal sanctioning yet another escalator at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station in New Delhi went viral. In his letter, Goyal stated that the provision of escalators at all stations was a "priority as it is essential for our esteemed customers, especially elderly, divyanjan and pregnant women", and goes on to add, "In the last five years, we have tripled the total number of escalators from 199 in 2014 to 603 until now".

Statements that display the utter lack of awareness when it comes to accessible infrastructure, say activists.

"Since 2010, before each Budget session, we have approached various railway ministers to raise pending issues including the need to look at universal design methods, says Vishwanath. "We have been saying elevators are the solution, not escalators, both for elderly and disabled people. Besides, many of the escalators don' function and are not disabled-friendly. Yet, nothing has changed".

Disability rights crusader Dr Satendra Singh has also drawn attention to the poor infrastructure in Delhi railway stations on social media and through RTIs.

"None of the six railway stations in the national Capital are disabled-friendly, which is a shame. There is no lift connecting platforms for the elderly and disabled, and they are forced to use steps to get down. You see so many elderly people who are feeble and ailing on the trains and it is a huge struggle for them. This is not just about people with disabilities", says Dr Singh.

Poor coordination

Such instances, he adds, highlight how lack of coordination and synergy between various government departments is undermining important goalposts of the Accessible India Campaign (AIC). "We are seeing this happen with so many issues, including medical admissions. The fact is that the targets set under AIC cannot be met with in isolation, government ministries and departments have to work together and we are not seeing that happen".

Sentiments shared by Rajiv Raturi, who way back in 2005, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court seeking proper and adequate access to public places for people with disabilities across India. Based on his petition, the apex court in 2017 issued 11 directions, which included making public institutions, transport and educational institutions disabled-friendly.

"Even today after the court directions on accessibility regarding websites, public transport and trains, nothing has happened", says Raturi. "A few months ago the matter came up in court and the judges were annoyed to find that none of the states had responded with the steps they had taken regarding retrofitting of buildings and accessibility of buses. There is no coordination between government departments coupled with the fact that getting states on board is difficult. The court directions are clear but not translating into action for this reason".

The NPRD plans to wait for the new government to take charge before raising these issues with the Railways Ministry again. "In the immediate future, we don't expect a change. We need a receptive minister who will understand the issues we are talking about so we will wait for the new government to take charge", says Vishwanath.

ALSO READ:Delhi High Court highlights lack of accessibility for blind passengers on Indian railways

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