Sunday, August 1, 2010

Delhi Roads Disabled Friendly: Think Again

With thousands of disabled visitors and athletes expected in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games, the government is hard at work to make the city ‘‘disabled-friendly’’. But in the absence of clear guidelines, lack of coordination between different government bodies and failure to follow international-standards, it’s anybody’s guess how well-prepared the capital will be for the disabled in October.

There are some efforts to address needs of disabled people but shoddy implementation means there is little improvement on the ground. Take for example buses run by Delhi Transport Corporation. The low-floor buses are disabled-friendly but are rarely used by people in wheelchairs. Reason: There are few bus stands in the city equipped with well-constructed ramps which help people board buses.

Ironically, all bus stands flaunt the accessibility symbol a person in a wheelchair. ‘‘That symbol on these bus stands is a joke,’’ said Shivani Gupta, director of Accessibility. ‘‘Built at a cost of Rs 25 lakh each, the bus stands have two major problems. One, the ramps on both ends are merged with the pavements, and two, one end of the stop has a huge steel advertisement board which blocks the so-called ramp.’’

Javed Abidi, director of NCPEDP, agrees. ‘‘Practically, there is no ramp to get on to the bus stand. And to get in to the new low-floor buses, a person on wheelchair has to be on the bus stand,’’ he said.

NGOs like Samarthyam and National Centre for the Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) have been vocal about this issue but to no avail. ‘‘We told DTC several times that bus stands coming up in the city are not disabled-friendly. The advertisement board near the ramp is a big hurdle for a wheelchair-bound person,’’ said Anjlee Agarwal, executive director and accessibility consultant at Samarthyam. DTC chairman Naresh Kumar said, ‘‘I agree bus stands are not completely disabled-friendly, but we cannot do anything about it as pavements are built by land-owning agencies. If they merge the pavement with ramps, we cannot help it.’’

Last year on World Disability Day, CM Sheila Dikshit said the government would ensure that new pavements follow a disabled-friendly design. Though new pavements are spacious and well-laid, in most NDMC and MCD areas, they are blocked by bollards through which a wheelchair can’t pass. ‘‘A person on wheelchair can’t get on to pavement. When we can’t provide accessibility to disabled people, why project the city as a disabled friendly city,’’ said Abidi. ‘‘Close to 3,000 disabled athletes and spectators are expected to visit Delhi. We can’t confine them to the Games Village and stadia. They would like to see the city. But nothing is disabled-friendly.’’

NDMC said it had placed bollards to stop motorists from using pavements. ‘‘We have placed bollards on the pavement to discourage two wheelers from using it. It is mainly used in the commercial sites,’’ said Anand Tiwari, spokesperson, NDMC.

Special ramps constructed on various roads have faulty design. The 89-meter ramp right next to Indian Spinal Injuries Centre doesn’t follow international criteria. ‘‘For a height of one meter the ramp should be 18 meters long (1:18 gradient). But this ramp is built on 1:12 gradient and is steep. Moreover, they have not provided a landing after every five meters,’’ said Shivani.

The ramp near Moti Bagh too is steep. ‘‘To discourage motorists from taking the ramp to cross the road, gates have been put at the entry and exit points. We create infrastructure for disabled and then block it. The intention might be right but it defeats the whole purpose,’’ said Anjlee.