March 13, 2016

Rail Budget Fall Short of Expectations

The following is the statement issued by the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) on February 25, 2016.

The executive committee of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD) finds that the rail budget presented in the Lok Sabha today falls far short of the expectations of the disability sector.

While we welcome the promise made by the minister that all railway stations that are “under redevelopment” will be accessible to persons with disabilities, the minister has not addressed the question of making the overwhelming majority of the other stations, accessible. Apart from platforms being inaccessible, boarding and deboarding being a Herculean task for many; railway coaches are not disabled friendly.

The promise of constructing one toilet each in all A1 stations for the disabled and the provision of portable toilets on platforms partially meets a long pending demand of the disability sector. This should be extended to other stations also. Besides these promises and referring to ongoing work on Braille enabled coaches and enabling e-ticketing for the disabled, much more was expected by the disabled community in the country, given the hype associated with the “Accessible India” campaign.

As far as e-booking is concerned, the railways has made it mandatory for those disabled seeking concession to do a fresh registration and procure a unique ID number for this purpose. However, such certificates can be procured from the DRM’s office only and the process for securing this certificate and ID is cumbersome and time consuming. Additionally, this militates against the concept of the universally valid ID card that the central government has promised to introduce (and is getting delayed for unexplained reasons), which is supposed to be valid for all purposes.

We have been demanding that concessions be extended to local and passenger trains also and the provision that certain categories of disabled cannot travel without escorts if they are to avail concession should be done away with. These apart, we have also since long been demanding that concession should be provided to persons with mental illness who are categorised as disabled in the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. These issues have not been addressed in the budget.

While the minister has promised to provide reservation in catering units to the disabled, no promise is forthcoming about providing licenses to disabled hawkers on trains and on railway platforms.

Most objectionable however, was the use of the term “divyang” to connote persons with disabilities. This term, repeatedly used by the railway minister during his speech, has been roundly rejected by activists and organisations working among the disabled for its patronising nature. We underline that disability is not a divine gift and terms like ‘divyang’ in no way ensures de-stigmatisation or an end to discrimination on grounds of disability.