Campaign to make India accessible to all has recently received a big boost when Justice Ujjal Bhuyan of Gauhati High Court ordered that private entities are also liable to provide accessible services to the persons with disabilities. Justice Bhuyan noted that even private entities also come under the ambit of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 (RPWD Act 2016).
The order came on a petition filed by Arman Ali, Executive Director, Shishu Sarothi — a Guwahati based NGO that works in the area of early intervention and rehabilitation, education, livelihoods, advocacy and awareness. In 2011, Arman Ali approached Gold Gym for his exercise needs. The gym asked Arman Ali to pay extra fee because a special trainer was to be arranged for him. Arman Ali contested this argument in the court and said that all the privately owned services should be available equally to everyone.
Delivering the judgement on this petition Justice Bhuyan said, “In fact in the definition clause, private establishment has been defined so also public building. As per Section 2 (w), “public building” means a Government or private building, used or accessed by the public at large, including a building used for educational or vocational purposes, workplace, commercial activities, public utilities, religious, cultural, leisure or recreational activities, medical or health services, law enforcement agencies, reformatories or judicial foras, railway stations or platforms, roadways, bus stands or terminus, airports or waterways. Similarly, “public facilities and services” have also been defined under Section 2(x).”
The court imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000 each on State government and Gold Gym. the money will be paid to Shishu Sarothi.
The court issued the following directions:
- All the officers and employees serving in the Social Welfare Department, Govt. of Assam including in the directorate and at the grass-root level should be undergo training and awareness programmes to sensitise them about the rights of persons with disabilities.
- Commissioner and Secretary to the Govt. of Assam, Social Welfare Department shall immediately chalk out a detailed programme to give effect to direction No. 1 above and in this regard he may also take the assistance of the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Assam and the Assam State Legal Services Authority.
- The departmental Commissioner and Secretary shall also organise awareness and sensitization programmes and campaigns in terms of Section 39 of the 2016 Act in consultation with the Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Assam and Assam State Legal Services Authority to ensure that people become aware of the rights of persons with disability and that those rights are protected.
- Commissioner and Secretary of the Social Welfare Department, Govt. of Assam shall issue general circulars to all Government and private establishments highlighting the salient features of the 2016 Act and to ensure that public buildings and public facilities and services are accessible by persons with disabilities. Such directions or guidelines may be issued within a period of 2 (two) months from the date of receipt of a certified copy of this order.
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