CHENNAI: All the hue and cry about the recent price rise in train fares is much ado about nothing, say activists working for the differently abled. A section in society constantly neglected by the Indian Railways, persons with disabilities have a substantial reason to protest as they do not get the service worthy of the ticket they purchase. They are constantly looked down as charity cases rather than fellow citizens who are entitled to their rights as any other person in the country.
Every journey for the disabled involves haggling with railway officials – those who are supposed to implement provisions made for the welfare of all rail commuters. At a time when online booking is the most popular method to get train tickets, it is ironical that the disabled cannot avail them. “When senior citizens can book e-tickets and avail their concession, why can’t the disabled do so?,” said S Nambu Rajan, State secretary, Tamilnadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC). Despite a Delhi High Court order to implement online reservations for disabled persons two years ago, no steps have been carried out yet.
Accessibility is a cause for concern as almost all coaches are not disabled-friendly. Even coaches earmarked for them are occupied by normal people. However, TMN Deepak, vice president, Tamilnadu Handicapped Federation, is appalled by the seclusion of disabled to one compartment.
“There are several persons with disabilities who are economically better off, example, software engineers who earn a huge sum per month. Even if they desire to travel in a first class AC coach, they can do so only with great discomfort. Facilities cannot be disabled-friendly in its true sense,” he said
Most railway stations lack escalators hindering the accessibility of platforms and disabled-friendly lavatories are not in proper maintenance.
To avail the battery car facility, one has to get to the station, ahead of time. The Chennai Central station , has only two battery cars for them and even senior citizens have to be accommodated.
Deepak suggests that a model railway station that is inclusive of all persons in society be constructed as an example for all cities to follow. “During the elections, officials had implemented model polling booths. Railways can take a leaf out of their book and follow suit,” he adds. The differently abled who form a significant percentage of the population hope that the new government in its budget would bring immediate changes in their favour.