Disabled-friendly facilities at Delhi hotels, restaurants under probe
Just how disabled-friendly are hotels and restaurants in New Delhi? That’s under probe at a common hearing of 449 suo moto cases against the owners of hotels and restaurants that is currently on in New Delhi. Delhi Disabilities Commissioner T D Dhariyal is likely to pass orders in the matter later this week.
By 15 June 2022, all public buildings, government and private, frequented by the public have to be made disabled-friendly as per standards laid down under Rule 15 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act.
Just how far this milestone is has been underlined during a hearing by T D Dhariyal, Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, New Delhi. Mr Dhariyal, whose term will end on 31 December this year, is hearing suo moto cases against 449 hotel and restaurant owners.
Most Delhi hotels are not disabled-friendly
Not surprisingly five-star hotels have a better report card to show as many of them follow international accessibility standards. More importantly, what the hearings reveal is the need for various ministries to revise their guidelines in keeping with the RPWD Act.
Most of the hotels and restaurants have said they have facilities like ramps, a room for disabled people, disabled-friendly toilets, etc. But the facilities do not comply with the standards set down under Rule 15. For instance, ramps are not smooth or are too high. There’s no designated parking for disabled people. Some of them follow guidelines of the Ministry of Tourism which themselves do not mention all the standards. – T D Dhariyal, Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Government of Delhi
Given this mismatch, Commissioner Dhariyal plans to recommend that the Ministry of Tourism revise its accessibility standards to reflect those set down by the Urban Development Ministry.
Confusion over accessibility standards
“The guidelines prescribed by the Urban Development (UD) Ministry which have been notified by the Department for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) clearly state that Rule 15 of the RPWD Act must be followed”, he says. “This includes specific details about the number of ramps, door handles, heights of food counters and placement of tables”.
The hearings are being attended by owners of 106 hotels and restaurants. To compile the complete list in itself was a challenge and it took the Commissioner’s office more than two years to get to the final list. For many of these restaurants, the challenges to becoming disabled-friendly are genuine, points out Commissioner Dhariyal.
“Some restaurants in the Connaught Place are heritage structures and cannot make internal changes. Any structural change could damage them”, he says. However, the law is absolute and neither the Commissioner nor the Delhi government can relax the standards. Given this, an extension to the June 2022 deadline may be a practical idea, says Mr Dhariyal. “While making the law we have to appreciate the reality but as Disabilities Commissioner, I have to uphold the law. These are challenging situations”.
Need to extend deadline to make hotels disabled-friendly?
This is a larger concern given the failure to meet similar deadlines. Take public facilities and services for instance. Under the Act all services have to delivered in an accessible manner. The deadline for that was 15 June 2019, which is over.
Watching the proceedings closely in Pulkit Sharma. A wheelchair user, Pulkit blogs frequently on accessibility issues in New Delhi, where he is based. “It is frustrating to me that I cannot go to a place with a free mind. I am always worried whether there will be ramps. Even when there is one, they are not as per standards. Some are so high, it’s like climbing Mount Everest!”
Pulkit welcomes the efforts made by the Disabilities Commissioner’s office to find a solution. “I am happy that someone in a position of authority is at least looking into this”.
Orders in the hearing are expected by the end of the week.