Monday, October 16, 2023

Supreme Court unveils Report With Recommendations For Better Accessibility For Persons With Disabilities, Senior Citizens And Women

New Delhi, India

In a monumental stride toward inclusivity and accessibility, the Supreme Court Committee on Accessibility, spearheaded by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, unveiled its Audit Report on the physical and functional accessibility of the Supreme Court for individuals with disabilities. The committee, established by the Chief Justice of India Shri DY Chandrachud on November 28, 2022, presented its comprehensive findings on October 16, 2023, accompanied by a series of recommendations aimed at dismantling barriers hindering access to the Supreme Court.

Justice Bhat, on the occasion of the report's release, commended this pioneering endeavor, emphasizing its unprecedented nature. He extended his gratitude to the committee members and the various sub-committees for their unwavering dedication to this endeavor, which he emphasized had sought to encompass the perspectives of a wide spectrum of individuals. Notably, the audit delved into both the physical and technological dimensions of accessibility.

Chief Justice Chandrachud offered his congratulations to Justice Bhat and the committee for their diligent and comprehensive efforts. He was particularly impressed by the multifaceted approach adopted by the committee, which incorporated a wide array of research techniques to systematically and thoroughly address accessibility concerns. Their study encompassed physical audits, operational assessments, and insights gathered through exhaustive questionnaires. This encompassed an assessment of the physical infrastructure of the Supreme Court, including courtrooms, washrooms, drinking water facilities, bathrooms, canteens, registrar courts, administrative offices, common facilities, and libraries. Notably, the Chief Justice underlined that the study had incorporated independent inputs from numerous stakeholders, with special consideration for the unique challenges faced by women.

Furthermore, Chief Justice Chandrachud emphasized that the committee had rigorously evaluated functional accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Special attention was also given to understanding and resolving the distinct challenges encountered by women in the Court, spanning lawyers, litigants, and staff. Additionally, the report focused on senior citizens, acknowledging the significant presence of senior advocate professionals. A notable aspect was the committee's consideration of specialized court procedures for individuals living with HIV. The report from the committee contains a multitude of noteworthy recommendations, many of which are also legal mandate under the Rights of Persons with Disbilities Act 2016 :-

1. Establishment of route maps and comprehensive signages.

2. Development of disability-friendly pathways.

3. Creation of designated parking areas with diligent monitoring for individuals with disabilities.

4. Augmentation of access to essential facilities like washrooms, water units, canteens, and ATMs.

5. Introduction of convenience features such as battery-operated vehicles, hydraulic lifts in courtrooms and auditoriums, and reserved seating for pregnant women, individuals with disabilities, and senior citizens.

6. Provision of accessible tools, including sign language interpretation and documents catered to visually impaired individuals and stakeholders with disabilities.

7. Implementation of sensitization sessions and the assurance of dedicated service windows, online resources, and human assistance for individuals with disabilities and senior citizens.

8. Establishment of a dedicated accessibility and inclusion department within the Supreme Court's registry.

9. Introduction of specialized facilities such as feeding and changing rooms.

10. Implementation of an equal opportunity policy for the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Chandrachud further noted that the report would serve as a valuable reference for High Courts, aiding them in assessing the physical and functional accessibility within their own premises. Importantly, he also revealed that the findings of the audit report would be made accessible to the public in the near future, underscoring the commitment to transparency and accountability in fostering a more inclusive judicial system.

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