CHENNAI: The Union Railway Ministry is to cough up Rs 10,000 for its alleged absurdity in proposing to withdraw a concession for persons with disabilities for being able to travel without assistance.
The action of the Ministry bordered on absurdity, commented the first Bench of Chief Justice SK Kaul and Justice MM Sundresh on Friday.
If a person with special needs equips herself/himself to deal with the daily chores better, including travel by train, it was deemed a disadvantage. But if the person was accompanied by an escort, then both the disbaled and the escort would be entitled to concessional travel. The world over, persons with special needs move around with facilities created for their benefit. Such people are to be encouraged to live an independent life. The society needs to be sensitized to the needs of such persons, the Bench says.
The railways seemed to deprive the more enterprising among such persons, who were able to equip themselves for the benefit of concessional travel and it was going against the very objective of the provisions of the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, the Bench said and imposed a cost of `10,000 on the Ministry.
Originally, while passing orders on a PIL from Rajiv Rajan, the Bench on September 14, 2006 had directed the Railways to instal assistance booths at the two stations in Chennai to help persons with disabilities who were travelling alone. It also directed that persons with disabilities, who were accompanied by an escort, should not be denied the concession.
Aggrieved, the Railway Ministry preferred the present miscellaneous petition challenging the second portion of the directive. It submitted that insofar as providing concession for persons with disabilities, who were not accompanied by an escort was concerned, it was a policy issue and in view of the financial implications, it would not be possible to increase the scope of the concession being granted to disabled persons. The concession was applicable only to orthopaedically handicapped/paraplegic persons/patients who could not travel without an escort, the Ministry contended.
The Bench said it was amazed at the Ministry's lack of sensitivity and foresight. What the Ministry suggested was the concession was only for orthopedically handicapped/paraplegic persons/patients who could not travel without escort. The benefit then covered both the person with disability and the escort and the subsequent government order was also stated to have been issued that there could be a single escort for two such persons.
What the Ministry tried to claim was that if a physically challenged person was travelling on his own without an escort, then the benefit of concession would not be applicable to the enterprising person with disability although he was covered under the Act. The rationale given for the same was that it was a matter of policy and was a commercial issue.
"We are unequivocally of the view that the application is misconceived, contrary to the intent and purpose of the Act and it was a mindless exercise. We dismiss this application with cost quantified at Rs 10,000 payable to the organization viz., EKTHA (Vidyasagar) in Kotturpuram, run by the petitioner, within 15 days," the Bench said.
The Bench also granted 15 days to the Ministry to frame a scheme for the implementation of the directives issued a decade ago in 2006, if not already done. Contempt proceedings would be initiated if the Ministry failed to act within 15 days, the Bench warned and posted the matter for compliance on April 27.