A sensitization workshop on Universal Accessibility and Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act 2016 for engineers and officials of the Public Work Department (PWD) (Housing) was held on August 18 at Nagaland Public Work Department (NPWD) Conference Hall, Kohima.
Speaking at the workshop as the resource person, Nagaland State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (PwDs), Diethono Nakhro, said that accessibility is when the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered, and products, services and facilities are built or modified so that they can be used by people of all abilities.
“It is a sad reflection of our society that all our new public buildings and spaces are having to go through retrofitting processes to make them accessible when they should have been necessarily designed and planned inclusively for all citizens right from the start,” she lamented.
Nakhro said none of these new buildings should have been given NOC or certification of completion for occupation until and unless they were in compliance with all the accessibility requirements.
She said that RPwD Act 2016 highlighted the relevant sections pertaining to accessibility of the built environment. Nakhro referred Section 40 that “The Central Govt shall, in consultation with the Chief Commissioner, formulate rules for PwDs laying down the standards of accessibility for the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, including appropriate technologies and systems, and other facilities and services provided to the public in urban and rural areas.”
Section 44 stated that no establishment shall be granted permission to build any structure if the building plan does not adhere to the rules formulated by the Central Government under section 40. No construction should be allowed to start unless the building plans, blue prints include all basic accessibility features, she said.
She asserted that ‘completed’ buildings cannot be handed over for occupation until and unless all accessibility provisions are all completed and functioning, adding that the concerned department must prepare an accessibility checklist, which must all be fully completed before a certificate of completion/handing over document can be given to the concerned department for occupation.
“I have seen in many of the new buildings that various accessibility components are left incomplete and we are told that it will be completed or installed at a later date – example, lifts, accessible toilets, etc,” Nakhro said. She also referred Section 45, which says, “All existing public buildings shall be made accessible in accordance with the rules formulated by the Central Government within a period not exceeding five years from the date of notification of such rules.
Stating that accessibility is not optional, Nakhro said, “It is not an accessory and an absolute requirement.” She said that lack of accessibility means people who live with disabilities basically have no life, which she said is not right and is depriving them of their human right as an equal citizen. Talking on universal accessibility, she said that accessibility is not optional, and said “It is a fundamental human right and non-negotiable.” Nakhro said that the department must maintain accessibility data of all government and public buildings.
Khriesinuo Kire and Asenla Walling, both legal consultant of State Commissioner for PwDs (Nagaland) talked on “Harmonized guidelines and standards for Universal Accessibility in India 2021.”
Kire said the guideline was issued under Section 15 of the RPwD Rules, 2017, as a mandatory document to be implemented for all public building which simply means all built environment open to public (both govt.and private establishments).
Walling also said that all built environment should be assessed and evaluated for accessibility in three broad domains, i.e, Information systems, infrastructure systems and building management systems.
The guideline advocate and strongly recommend all built environments to enhance accessibility levels in each building whether existing or new or orient the infrastructure building practices towards universal accessibility, Walling said.
Kire said that with context to Nagaland and the RPwD Act, 2016, though the notifications were issued, there are hardly any departments who have implemented it “which only goes to show that the Act is not taken seriously for reason best known to them.”
The programme was chaired by CE PWD (Housing), Er. Hozheto Shikhu, welcome address by Engineer-in-Chief, NPWD, Er. Pukroneizo Kera and vote of thanks by senior legal advisor NPWD, Temsu Soyah.