Plea to publicise new draft guidelines for universal accessibility

HC directs Centre to respond to the PIL filed by co-founder of ‘The Banyan’

The Madras High Court on Friday directed the Centre to respond to a public interest litigation petition which insisted upon giving wide publicity to the draft ‘Harmonised guidelines and standards for universal accessibility in India, 2021’ so that people could express their views on creating a disabled-friendly environment by providing easy access to public spaces.

Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and Sathi Kumar Sukumara Kurup said they were of the view that the prayer sought by the petitioner required to be considered. However, before taking a final decision, they ordered notice to the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and said the officials concerned must furnish written instructions to a Central Government standing counsel by October 21.

Vaishnavi Jayakumar, a cross disability rights advocate living with psychosocial disability, and also the co-founder of The Banyan, had filed the PIL petition. She pointed out that the Central Public Works Department, falling under the Union Urban Affairs Ministry, had published the draft guidelines on its website and called for public comments on or before August 27 by e-mail.

Stating that it was not known as to when the draft guidelines were uploaded, she said even she came to know about them only during a conversation with an accessibility expert in September. She said the draft had not been publicised well, and therefore, people had no means to know about the draft guidelines and participate in the process. Pointing out that the draft guidelines run to 317 pages, the petitioner said sufficient time ought to have been given for soliciting public comments and the document ought to have been screen reader- or assistive technology-friendly so that the visually challenged could read them.

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