On World Disabled Day, we take a look at whether Mumbai’s locals, first in the world to set aside space for disabled commuters, are merely a façade to hide a deep-rooted indifference to their problems in the city. Priyal Dave does an on the spot investigation
Can you imagine someone claiming freshly applied henna (mehendi) as a handicap that entitles her to travel in the ‘disabled’ compartment of a local train? Can a cut while shaving be considered a handicap? Silly as it may sound and unbelievably thick-skinned, this is what a handicapped commuter, who interestingly, is also a railway employee, must face repeatedly face as he travels to work every day. To make it worse, he says, “People are sometimes so arrogant that they don’t even accept that they are traveling without authorisation in a compartment meant for the handicapped.” On the occasion of World Disability Day, the disabled commuters of Mumbai for whom a special compartment has been reserved on Mumbai’s lifelines, do not appear to be happy at all as their travel is not easy despite all the special provisions mandated for them.
While the administration has left no stoned unturned to bring out an admiral set of guidelines on the amenities to be provided at railway stations and other public buildings for the persons with disabilities, when it comes to implementation of the same guidelines prepared by Research Designs Standard Organisation (RDSO), the research wing of Indian Railways, there are tremendous shortcomings.
Compartment encroached by unauthorised commuters
The new rule of allowing ladies in an advanced stage of pregnancy to use the compartment has made commuting for the disabled worse. For now, in addition to policemen in civil uniform, beggars, drug addicts and other unauthorised commuters, they have to deal with women who are shamelessly misusing the rule. Complaining about the same, Jitendra Karelia, president of the Mumbai chapter of the Disability Advocacy Group says, “I have seen many ladies in the very initial stages of pregnancy easily getting into our compartment without even carrying any certificate. I had to go to three different doctors and get their signatures despite being visibly disabled”. (Karelia has a 60 per cent disability arising from ankylosing spondylitis, which prevents flexibility and is a hurdle to free movement, forcing him to walk with extreme carefulness and visible stiffness. In spite of this, every time a ticket checker shows up, he must produce the certificate. Blind people must do the same. “But catch a ticket checker asking a woman with no visible sign of pregnancy to produce some proof,” he says indignantly!
Reacting to this, the Chief Public Relations Officer of Western Railway said, “It is a convenience given to working women in Mumbai. Also, the new rakes have five times the capacity of the old rakes which creates adequate space for everyone.”
Try telling that to a person in a wheelchair who must fight his way on to the train!
Slippery tiles at Churchgate
The suburban terminus of Churchgate has recently put swanky and slippery white tiles in its circulating area, which are not only a menace for the disabled but for the abled as well. Many have had a fall, especially in the monsoons. It is learnt from the administration that the new tiles which have replaced ‘the old and dilapidated Kota tiles’ are less slippery, if not slip proof. The administration refuses to acknowledge that people are skidding on the new tiles.
King Tantalus’ dilemma
A new water hut to provide clean drinking water was set up at Churchgate, which is occupied by at least five commuters at any given time. For a disabled person on a wheel chair, this facility is out of bounds as the approach to the water hut has steps. It has not occurred to the administration yet to provide a ramp partly or completely in the area to make the water hut accessible to everyone. While the administration reacts by saying that there are not many who are bound by a wheelchair, Karelia says that because things are so inconvenient, such commuters have no option but to prefer crutches even though they are inconvenient to use. Like King Tantalus of old, wheelchair bound commuters must look at the water without being able to drink.
Special toilets but approach blocked
Most toilets for the disabled have been blocked with mops, buckets, dustbins or the person who collects money. Our picture is self-explanatory of how blatantly rules are violated because the administration puts its hands up once the facility is provided.
Guiding tiles at the end of platforms
While at Churchgate guiding tiles have been provided on one side of each platform, at CST, except for one platform on the Harbour line, none of the other six platforms have this basic amenity. According to the guidelines issued by RDSO, chequered tiles
near the edge of the platforms are to be provided to help blind commuters to independently navigate the platform.
Audio Signage is actually working and helpful!
Of all the minimum essential facilities which are to be provided for the disabled commuters, the only one that has earned the administration some brownie points are the audio signals, which help the blind to locate their compartment.