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Giving back control: What Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 means for the mentally ill

By Asif Kalam

What might it mean for people who live with mental illnesses to be given control over how they will receive medical care? The Rajya Sabha recently passed the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, which aims to safeguard the rights of people with mental illnesses. It prioritises choices made by patients, and replaces the archaic Mental Health Act, 1987. One of the Bill’s significant new provisions is the Advance Directive, which allows persons living with mental illness to create a document with instructions on how they must be treated and cared for in the event that they are incapacitated by an episode of illness.

The Bill also allows individuals to nominate a representative to take treatment decisions on their behalf if required. Mental Health Review Boards (MHRBs), quasi-judicial bodies that will be set up in every district, will be entrusted with the certification, custody, review, and arbitration of Advance Directives.

Representational image. AFP

"Part of the terror of mental illness is losing control over your mind, and knowing that you will probably lose even more as you grow older,” says Sneha, a 30-year-old writer based in Bangalore, who is bipolar. “To be able to write advance instructions for one’s treatment helps give back some of that control," she adds, when asked about what it might mean for her to be able to make these decisions for oneself. Manisha*, a 26-year-old writer who lives with borderline personality disorder, seems to echo this when she says, “Having a treatment plan in place — even if it’s as simple as a document stating whom to call, what I do not consent to under any circumstances, whom to treat as my next of kin, what my psychiatric and psychopharmacological history is, who my doctors are — would be a level of visibility and explicitness I’d be grateful for.”

Both Sneha and Manisha say that they are willing to go through the process of paperwork to get these Advance Directive documents in place. This is despite how long the process sounds — they both insist that it is important that the directive allows them to maintain control over their treatment. Manisha says she would do it despite not being clear on how the logistics of such a plan would come together. Sneha also mentions that she is willing to and will need to keep updating it, based on the new developments that take place in her illness, its treatment, and her own world view.

Stakeholders we spoke to were in broad agreement that the Bill seems to be a step forward. It has finally decriminalised attempts to commit suicide, and mandates that governments provide affordable, quality, geographically accessible mental healthcare. Vandana Gopikumar, co-founder of Banyan, a mental health NGO for women, sounded hopeful when she said, “I’m happy that the Bill takes into account the large service gap and mandates access to care as a right. This will address the needs of many who live in low resource contexts, who today have to travel long distances to access care, or often forgo treatment in the absence of a functional health and social care system.”

But while the Advance Directive is seen as greatly significant in recognising the autonomy of people for their treatment and care, some policy experts and rights groups are sceptical. Section 11 of the Bill allows doctors and relatives of a person to approach the Mental Health Review Board (MHRB) to revoke or modify the Advance Directive under certain grounds.

Jayna Kothari, lawyer and co-founder of the Centre for Law and Policy Research, argues that the power of Advance Directive is seriously undermined by Section 11. She says, "On one hand the whole provision is to give people with mental illness the right to autonomy and to recognise that they have capacity to take decisions for their own lives. If those decisions that they have made for themselves can be challenged, then you are basically saying that you can make a decision that we can revoke because we know better.”

The grounds on which other parties can challenge an Advance Directive include considerations of whether the person was well-informed, and had the capacity to take the decision. Manisha says, “No matter how distressed or incapacitated I might be at a particular time, I — and the people I trust — know what’s likely to help me and what’s definitely likely to make it worse.”
Kothari argues that in the case of patients who require treatment for other non-mental-health related illnesses, there is no such provision to challenge their decisions, so why is there a lack of patient autonomy in mental health care? “You don’t even raise these grounds for people in non-mental-health situations,” she says.

When asked how she would react if she learnt that her Advance Directive had been overturned, Manisha says, “I’d be unsurprised but bitterly angry. It’s a question of autonomy and self-determination. In some cases this sense of autonomy and self-determination is hard-won. I’d be shattered to realise that having a mental illness somehow translates to my ownership of my life not mattering.”

*Name changed on request.

The Ladies Finger is a leading online feminist magazine.

The Mental Health Care Bill, which sees mental health care only as a repair job, fails to recognise the value of psycho-neural diversity.

THE HINDU ARCHIVES During a tug-of-war contest in a mental hospital in Kerala, a file picture. It is important that all persons with mental disability are treated as autonomous persons worthy of respect.

By AMITA DHANDA

IN his classic study on famines, Amartya Sen contended that avoidance of famines did not just require food stocks but also the freedom to raise one’s voice against dwindling stocks. To prove the point, Sen referred to China, where people died of starvation just kilometres from well-stocked granaries because they did not have the freedom to speak of their piteous condition. Sen was arguing for the indivisibility of rights and contending that people could not be asked to choose between food and freedom, and that they needed both as the absence of one could result in the loss of the other. Despite Sen’s highly persuasive reasoning, it is often believed that freedoms are the luxuries of the endowed and there is no point in offering a choice to the deprived as it is obvious what they would choose. Material goods and facilities are not accorded greater importance only when issues of hunger and starvation are discussed. They are also seen to be critical for other survival needs. It is often claimed, not just in India, that in order to promote mental health, the development of infrastructure, personnel and services should be given greater importance than the will and preference of the persons receiving the services; that questions of choice and preference can be addressed after a robust system of mental health care has been established.

The piteous condition of the inmates of Berhampore Mental Hospital and the unanimous passage of the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013, by the Rajya Sabha were two pieces of news that were widely reported recently. This simultaneous surfacing of the problem and the solution causes one to ask, will the new mental health care law improve the life chances of those abandoned in these obsolete institutions? Does the Mental Health Care Bill have an exit plan for the inmates of these hospitals? Does it ensure that such institutions will be phased out?

The Bill starts on an ambitious note, promising every person the right to access mental health care and treatment from mental health services run or funded by the government. This mental health care has to be affordable, of good quality, plentiful, available to all without discrimination and, most significantly, “provided in a manner that is acceptable to persons with mental illness and their families and caregivers”. If for a moment it is presumed that the person with mental illness, the family and the caregivers have identical expectations from mental health care, this generic phrase has the potential to forge a link between services and choice. Unfortunately, this has not happened and instead the Bill has proceeded in the opposite direction.

The Bill allows a person, who so desires, to formulate in advance a direction to the doctors on permissible treatment and the manner in which it may be administered. Considering that the legislation makes patient preference in the manner of providing mental health care a right, it would be expected that the honouring of advance directives would be an article of faith. Instead, the Bill designs both the making of the advance directive and its subsequent implementation an obstacle race for the maker. Successful completion of the race does not ensure that the doctors and the family are obliged to obey the directive; both the doctors and the family can bypass the directive by following the procedure provided in the Bill. The discomfiture with following patient preference also comes to the fore when the doctors are exonerated from any liability, which may arise if they follow the patient’s advance directive.

In a similar fashion, the facility to appoint a nominated representative has been converted from a right of the patient to a power of the state. Thus where the patient does not nominate a representative, the statutorily designated list takes over. This is like asking a student to choose her working partner and as she is weighing her choices, a partner is provided and the teacher believes the student was provided an opportunity to choose.

As already mentioned, there was a possibility to construct the mental health care system premised on the preferences of persons living with mental illness. This required policymakers to accord respect to the choices made by them. Yet, the legislation only refers to drugs and treatments devised in allopathy and other systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Unani, and homeopathy and yoga. No reference is made to the recovery interventions devised by persons with psychosocial disability, be it peer support, open dialogue, family therapy or culture-based interventions such as faith and temple healing, which even the mental health programmes of the country have admitted to provide relief to some persons with psychosocial disability. The Bill does not bar these preferences; but neither does it permit them. And users relying on these services cannot be sure of their choices being respected as the Bill requires persons with mental illness, unlike the rest of the populace, to prove they possess legal capacity. Just the presence of mental illness does not mean that the persons lack legal capacity, but the presence of mental illness is sufficient to question the legal capacity to make contemporary choices or issue advance directives.

So when the Bill refers to an essential drug list or state-of-the-art treatment facilities and medical insurance on an equal basis with persons with physical illness, it is primarily referring to the biomedical interventions provided by allopathy. For other medical systems, the Bill concedes inclusion in the essential drugs list if they have any drugs. Non-drug interventions which are being preferred by a number of people with psychosocial disability have just been ignored. If an ambulance or other means of swift and safe travel is provided to take an individual for the medical or other intervention they desire, then the ambulance service is perceived as support, but if the service is provided to transport an individual to a service they detest, then the home service would be seen as arrest and abduction. If a person with physical illness is provided an emergency treatment and he or she wishes to discontinue it after the emergency is over, they are free to do so. The same freedom is not available to persons with mental illness and this situation has not been remedied by the Bill.

CRPD and the Bill

This is the case even when the Bill is being enacted in order to bring the mental health law in the country in consonance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was adopted by the world body in 2006 and ratified by India in 2007. Equality and non-discrimination is the centrepiece of the Convention and the full inclusion of persons with disabilities within the polity its overarching objective. Singling out persons with mental disability for legal capacity questioning and allowing such disability to be a criterion in procedures ordering compulsory institutionalisation are provisions that are in breach of the equality mandate of the CRPD. In acknowledgement of the fact that the perceptions of the non-disabled world do not match with the lived experience of persons with disabilities, the CRPD was drafted with the active participation of persons with disabilities. Absence of persons with disabilities could cause prejudice to resurface and stereotype to rule. To avoid this consequence, the CRPD expressly obligated the states to make all laws and policies relating to disability in active consultation with disabled persons and their organisations. The two-member team that drafted the Bill as also the Standing Committee for Parliament consulted disabled persons and their organisations and did introduce some amendments in the 2013 Bill on the strength of those representations. However, all submissions asking for recognition of will and preference, ouster of compulsory care and guardianship have been ignored.

What is the consequence of this selective engagement? The Bill makes some commitment in relation to services, essential medicines, and non-discriminatory medical insurance, but these services and medicines are not linked to actual preferences of persons with disabilities but what professionals and practitioners consider suitable. People with disabilities whose preferences are in line with what the professionals suggest stand to gain; others are left in the cold or made to accept whatever is on offer. Nobody asks whether recovery can result from such forced interventions. During the negotiations, persons with mental disabilities testified before the Ad Hoc Committee of the United Nations on how the humiliation of the forced intervention prevented them from seeking any treatment from the formal system.

If force and compulsion closes communication and drives persons into isolation, then is there not a case to legislate dialogue and negotiation?

The Bill has several provisions addressing the rights to liberty, expression, information and the right to legal capacity. However, these provisions primarily provide for procedures by which these rights may be deprived or curtailed. The legislation does not speak of means and methods by which these rights can be promoted, respected and realised. If this effort is not made, then can it be claimed that the Bill upholds the CRPD when the CRPD states that in no case shall a person with disability be deprived of liberty by reason of disability?

The quality of services is known to improve when the users of the service are empowered persons whose voices would be heard. Inmates of institutions, who have the highest stake in improving the quality of services, can do little in the matter as they enter the service voiceless and powerless. Lawmakers are concerned with wrongful admission, and they do not want institutions to be used if services that impose lesser restrictions on inmates are available. And yet there is no obligation to create such institutions. And the responsibility for ensuring that nobody obtains wrongful admission is placed on a Mental Health Review Commission, courts and legal aid. These are all review mechanisms external to the institution, and the Bill has no inbuilt correction mechanism. It has not built alliances with the natural watchdogs of any institution—the inmates themselves.

To go back to the question raised at the beginning of this piece, will the new law help the inmates of the Berhampore Mental Hospital? Despite all the additional resources the Bill promises to pour into the sector, the answer remains a reluctant no. For the inmates of the Berhampore hospital to have a better deal, it was important that all those with mental disability were treated as autonomous persons worthy of respect. If even one person can be forcibly treated or projected as dangerous or incompetent, then all overt, covert and hibernating persons with disabilities can be so treated. By not recognising this reality, the Mental Health Care Bill has failed to create a regime of universal mental health care.

The legislation has not looked at freedom and services as one indivisible whole, and thus services are being created not according to what persons with disabilities want and need but according to what the experts in the field believe they need. The decade of the brain tried to prove that “mental illness” was just a biomedical aberration. It failed. The descriptor “psychosocial disability” on the other hand captured the idea of a differently wired mind which is excluded by social norms, practices and beliefs. The biomedical approach towards mental diversity is concerned with fixing the individual, whereas the psychosocial is geared towards acceptance. Evidently, a robust mental health care law and policy require both. The Bill, in only seeing mental health care as a repair job, has failed to recognise the value of psycho-neural diversity.

With the Bill having such a smooth ride in the Upper House, its passage in the Lok Sabha is assured. However, just because the Lok Sabha has the numbers to enact the Bill is no reason to do so. A psychiatrist colleague has referred to the Bill as a work in progress. I agree. My only submission is to let the progress in the Bill happen when it is debated in the Lok Sabha and not a decade later. There are possibilities of transformation in the Bill, and I hope that those possibilities are seized by the House of the persons so that the most excluded members of the polity get their just due.

Amita Dhanda is professor of Law and Head, Centre for Disability Studies, at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

Krishna Pushkaram ghats remain inaccessible to persons with disabilities

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Devotees offering prayers to the river Krishna

Devotees with disabilities, who want to take part in the Krishna Pushkarams, are likely to face severe inconvenience. The reason: there are no ramps at any of the bathing ghats.

Instead, the state government has come up with alternative arrangements to address the concerns of Persons With Disabilities (PWDs). Trained volunteers, belonging to NGOs will carry disabled people to the ghats for Krishna Pushkarams in Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda districts, as part of government’s alternative arrangements.

“Volunteers will carry PWDs and senior citizens on special chairs from the booking counters to the ghats, assist them in bathing and bring them back to where they were picked up from,” said Mahbubnagar district assistant commissioner (Endowments) B Krishna.

However, the state’s initiative to utilise the services of volunteers to carry disabled people is being questioned by disability rights associations.

President of Network of Persons with Disabilities B Sreenivasulu demanded that barrier-free environment be provided for them in Pushkarams. “We are not dead bodies to be carried on shoulders but living human beings,” he said, while explaining about the problems that are likely to be faced by the persons with disabilities during Pushkarams.

“Carrying us like dead bodies to ghats will not create a barrier-free environment that we are entitled to. An inclusive barrier-free environment that enables us to go on our own or through assistance of an escort, and not on their shoulders, should be put into place. Ramps should be created, announcements accessible to deaf be ensured and all officials from lower to upper ranks should be oriented and sensitised to deal with PWDs,” said Sreenivasulu, a disabled person himself.

“During the Godavari Pushkarams, our car was parked very far from the ghat. My son carried me in his arms to the ghat and brought me back. There were no escorts or wheelchairs,” said P Kamala, another PWD.

Meanwhile, Endowments department said that ramps have not been created with a purpose. “If we build ramps, all non-disabled persons might also use them and fall down into the river waters. That would bring more disaster,” Krishna added.

Legal view

Prof Amita Dhanda, head of Centre for Disability Studies, Centre for Legal Philosophy and Justice Education, NALSAR University of Law, and a nodal officer of the Government of India preparing a national report on disability, stated, “We need accessible pathway till the ghats. Carrying disabled till ghats can be a substitute arrangement but not the end, not the permanent solution to ensure barrier-free environment. The government has to take forward from just providing special chairs. A more inclusive approach is needed which can be done technologically to ensure direct access to the ghats.”

Visually-challenged can’t access ‘krisP App’

The ‘krisP app’, launched by the Mahbubnagar district police especially for pilgrims to the Krishna Pushkarams in the district, has no features that can help the visually-challenged pilgrims. “We have not thought of the visually-challenged people while making the app. I would consult the police team who made the app and some features can be added to it so that the blind can use it for navigation,” said Mahbubnagar SP Rema Rajeshwari.

The krisP App, available on Google play, can be used to navigate the 52 ghats of Mahbubnagar district. A voice navigation and information through recorded voice, if added to the app, will come handy for the visually-challenged pilgrims.

The New Indian Express

Use of ‘Divyang’ will not end discrimination, access to rightful entitlements will: Disability Rights Groups

NEW DELHI: The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, a voluntary network has raised objection to the use of term “divyang” to address people with disabilities. The Disability rights group has written to Prime Minister Narendra Mod seeking his intervention to withdraw the notification renaming ‘viklangjan’ as ‘divyangjan’ in Hindi nomenclature of Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities.

In its letter to the PM the Disability rights group draws attention to the gazette notification of May 17 renaming the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities as the ‘Divyangjan Sashaktikaran Vibhag’ in Hindi. “Disability is not a divine gift. And the use of phrases like ‘divyang’ in no way ensure de-stigmatisation or an end to discrimination on grounds of disability,” The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, secretary Muralidharan has said in the letter.

“What needs to be addressed are stigma, discrimination and marginalisation that persons with disabilities are subjected to on account of the cultural, social, physical and attitudinal barriers that hinder their effective participation in the country’s economic, social and political life. Mere change of terminology is not in any way going to alter this,” it added.

The disability rights group had earlier written a letter to the PM in January objecting to the word “Divyang” when Modi had referred to replacement of the word ‘viklaang’ with the word ‘divyang’ during his monthly broadcast of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme.

“We had pointed out in our letter that invoking divinity will in no way lessen the stigma and discrimination that persons with disabilities have been historically subjected to and continue to encounter in their daily lives. Exclusion and marginalisation cannot be addressed by using patronising terms like ‘divyang’,” the voluntary network had argued. The idea of replacing Viklaang with Divyang was presented at the launch of teh Accessible India Campaign in December last year, where the PM’s message was read out by finance minister Arun Jaitley. The usage of the word has since then evoked a mixed response from activists and voluntary organisations working with the disabled.

Meanwhile, Convenor of Disabled Rights Group (DRG) Javed Abidi said that while he has not particular preference for the word “divyang” but if he has to choose one he would prefer divyang over viklaang as the latter carries in its meaning a lot of negativity. However, he is clear that what he is more concerned about is the lack of effective measures to make life better for disabled persons. “I am not happy with the way the Accessible India program is being executed. Also what about the law for disabled persons that the government has been promising for long. It is more important to focus on issues that can give people with disabilities quality of life instead of focusing on cosmetic changes,” Abidi said.

Ambika Pandit | Times of India | May 26, 2016

Activists oppose ‘divyang’

Disability rights activists and organisations in the city are opposing the Central government’s decision to rename the Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities to incorporate the word ‘divyang’ (instead of viklang) in its Hindi and English nomenclatures.

On Tuesday, social media was filled with status messages of persons with disabilities saying they did not want to be labelled divyang, which means divine body. “This is regressive terminology, which is dehumanising persons with disabilities – human diversities cannot be divine,” said B. Meenkashi of Equals, Centre for Promotion of Social Justice. “It also absolves the responsibility of the community and the government by making this is an individual rather than a social issue. Any identity should have a purpose — the purpose being that the government upholds the rights of marginalised people. This does not do that,” she said.

Despite several petitions and communications to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment since December 2015, the terminology has been pushed through, ignoring the representations of persons with disabilities, said Vaishnavi Jayakumar, member, Disability Rights Alliance, Tamil Nadu. “Whatever is decided on the terminology for the disabled, persons with disabilities should be a part of the exercise. There is a lacuna in Indian languages for words for persons with disabilities and some words have not kept pace with the rights movement. This could have been an opportunity to formulate some, in a participatory manner,” she said.

This is just political scoring, said T.M.N. Deepak, State president, December 3 Movement. “This is an undemocratic way of labelling us. Terminology is not going to make a big difference without meaningful implementation of schemes meant for the disabled,” he said.

The Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All Types of Differently Abled and Caregivers, State general secretary, S. Namburajan, said they were calling for the withdrawal of divyang. “We are opposed to this terminology,” he said.

Centre to rename Department of Empowerment of People with Disabilities

The Hinduhttp://m.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/activists-oppose-divyang/article8642708.ece

Why GN Saibaba’s lawyers must take the State to court for the violation of his disability rights

The treatment meted out to the professor in prison was in breach of the Constitution and India’s international commitment to disability human rights.

Ever since Professor GN Saibaba was taken into custody in May 2014 for alleged links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and kept in the most hostile environment at Nagpur Jail’s windowless anda barracks, I have wondered why housing him in such inhospitable and inaccessible conditions was not questioned as being in breach of India’s international commitments. The Supreme Court last week released the professor on bail saying that the Maharashtra government had been “extremely unfair” to him.

India has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities, which requires the State to ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. Saibaba suffers from 90% disability after being struck with polio as a child, and is wheelchair-bound. Article 5 of the Convention requires the State to take all necessary steps to ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided. Article 13 of the Convention obligates the State to provide all “procedural and age-appropriate accommodations” in order to enable the person with disability to participate in legal proceedings. The denial of reasonable accommodation has been described as discrimination on grounds of disability.

The above description on the mandate of international human rights law shows that the State was obligated to modify its infrastructure and customise its procedures in order to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively participate in legal proceedings. But all media reports on the conditions in which Saibaba faced in prison point to the opposite.

For instance, his wheelchair was broken but not repaired. He was carried like a sack of sand. He was not provided access to a Western-style toilet, so he had to use the Indian toilet with guards holding him by the shoulder and gripping his arm. Far from providing accommodation, the state authorities even took away from him what he possessed. The manner in which he was made to attend to the call of nature in custody damaged his ligaments and nerves and set in a degenerative process. Saibaba’s treatment in custody is a clear case of disability-based discrimination, but this contention was not explicitly raised in his bail applications, which mentioned the fact of the physical impairments and how detention was causing his condition to deteriorate further, but did not demand reasonable accommodation.

This could be because Saibaba did not wish to seek any concessions from the State. Consequently, when his interim bail was cancelled, he refused to rush to the Supreme Court with out-of-turn petitions. He also refused the exemption from personal appearance in the trial court, which was offered by the Supreme Court. Acceptance of the concession would have saved him 340 km of excruciating travel in a police vehicle. Saibaba saw the seeking of concessions as begging for mercy. Since he was agitating for the rights of excluded people, he perceived the treatment meted out to him aimed to break his spirit. He evidently focused on thwarting that result, even whilst his health deteriorated considerably.

Prisons and disability

Prisons have been made for a standard form body. Bodies of persons with disabilities do not conform to that standardised model. Equality of treatment requires that the prison environment should be restructured to allow an undertrial with a disability the same living environment as an undertrial without disability. In extending those facilities, the prison authorities do the undertrial no favour but accede to his human rights claims on the system. Asserting a right, unlike seeking a concession, is pressing for an entitlement without embarrassment or shame. To exempt Saibaba from his trial hearings was asking him to be content with raising a lesser defence than would be set up by a non-disabled undertrial. Saibaba disallowed the exclusion by refusing that concession. But his right to a fair trial and access to justice entitled him to ask that his travel from prison to court should be so organised that the needs of his particular body were reasonably accommodated. After all, if such travel was not meant to be luxurious, neither was it meant to be torturous.

Advocacy for the activist

In an interview after his release on interim bail, Saibaba spoke of the widespread violence experienced by other inmates and his efforts to stop it by apprising prison authorities of Supreme Court directives. His efforts, he bemoaned, were only able to obtain temporary relief for the hapless inmates. In contrast with his activist espousal of the causes of others, he bore the treatment meted out to him with determination and fortitude. His resistance, assumed more passive forms, but continued. No individual should have to bear such a burden. And to prevent such a consequence it is necessary for disability rights activists to agitate before the courts and prison administration that the treatment meted out to Saibaba in prison was in breach of the Constitution and India’s international commitment to disability human rights. Such an assertion would cause both prison officials and the courts to engage with disability human rights, an exercise intrinsically valuable, even if no relief is won. Discourse on an entitlement needs to precede its realisation.

If the advocacy causes any accessibility features to be incorporated in prisons, all future prison inmates with disabilities will benefit from the change. Disability human rights, more than any other kind of human rights, can be a useful vehicle to accept difference and diversity. Saibaba is a human rights advocate with multiple causes. He has espoused those causes with his heart soul, and despite his body. It is imperative for the rest of us to speak for the entitlements of his body. Such advocacy is needed to ensure that when authorities detain persons with disabilities, they cannot use the particular needs of the specific body as an instrument of torture. The accessibility of the court and prison system is needed for all persons with disabilities. Hopefully, once the humanising of the prison system begins with one of its most vulnerable populations, the benefits of the approach may spillover to other inmates. The Supreme Court has spoken of prisoners’ rights as an integral part of the right to life. For prisoners with disabilities, as Saibaba’s experience has most poignantly shown, it is a matter of pure survival. Survival has to be ensured for life to flourish.

Amita Dhanda is a professor of law and heads the Centre for Disability Studies at NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad.

Railway Stations not Disabled-Friendly yet, High Court warns of contempt action

Seeks Names Of Officials Responsible For Completing Work

The Bombay high court has sought the names of he Western and Central railway officers responsible for ensuring that disabled-friendly amenities are provided at suburban stations. It proposes to ssue them contempt of notice or delaying the work.

“It is a sorry state of affa rs,“ said a bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Prakash Naik, when informed that visits to 12 Western Railway , 10 Central Railway and nine Harbour line stations showed that contrary to the railways’ claim, acilities were found wanting.

The court was hearing a PIL by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law.

On March 11, the railways urged for an extension of time o comply with the HC order to complete work on providing amenities for the disabled, in cluding ramps, and lowheight booking windows and drinking water facilities. The deadline was April. Western Railway sought an extension of a year and Central Railway sought time till June. The judges then asked the NGO to verify their claims of work done and to submit a report with pictures of the conditions at stations on all the three lines.
Senior advocate Gayatri Singh, appearing for the NGO, submitted a report of the visit to the 31 stations. She said toilets were either broken or locked and ticket windows were either not at the appropriate height or closed. She said tactile indicators on the floors were not appropriately placed, adding, “At most places, they do not exist.“

Debunking Tall Claims

The judges said except for providing land for a helipad for emergencies, nothing has been done by the railways. “We pro pose to issue contempt notices to the general managers of Central and Western railways.It is the only way to ensure compliance,“ said Justice Oka.Railways’ advocates, Suresh Kumar and Sangeeta Yadav , sought time to take instructions on the NGO’s report. The judges granted a week, but said they must return with the names and designations of the officers responsible for getting the work done.

Times of India

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