CHENNAI: The Centre should be directed to publish the draft ‘Harmonized guidelines and standards for universal accessibility in India, 2021’ in accessible format and in vernacular languages, said a public interest writ petition filed in the Madras high court. The PIL wanted the Centre to make printed copies available for inspection at designated offices, provide wide publicity in media and invite public comments for a minimum of 30 days.
Admitting the plea on Friday, a division bench comprising Justice T S Sivagnanam and Justice Sathi Kumar Sukumara Kurup directed the Centre to file its response by October 20.
In 2016, the Union ministry of housing and urban affairs brought out comprehensive guidelines laying down standards and design specifications for barrier-free environment to ensure universally accessible public spaces, especially by persons with disability, said petitioner Vaishnavi Jayakumar. These guidelines were called ‘Harmonized guidelines and space standards for barrier free built environment for persons with disability and elderly persons.’ “This being so, the Central Public Works Department (CPW) appears to have uploaded a draft harmonized guidelines 2021 with an office memorandum dated August 12,” she said.
It is not known when this draft was uploaded on the website of CPW. The memorandum states that the draft is being placed for public comments and that comments may be submitted up to August 27 by e-mail, she added.
“No newspaper advertisement was made about the publication of the draft guidelines for public comments. No intimation whatsoever was available on the websites of the other authorities concerned with the publication and only 15 days was provided by the CPW for submission of comments,” counsel for the petitioner A Yogeshwaran said.
Noting that people had no means to know that subject draft guidelines were uploaded by the CPW and hence valuable opportunity to participate in the process was lost, he said, “the draft is a 317-page document and the 15-day time period for comments was not sufficient to even read and understand the document.”
Moreover, the draft uploaded as a PDF file was not screen-reader or assistive technology-friendly, meaning that vision-impaired people in the country would not have been able to access and understand it, he said.