The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on a petition filed by a wheelchair-bound academic, who was not allowed to board a flight in 2017 and has now sought directions to the authorities for safeguarding the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities (PWDs) during air travel.
The notice was issued by a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Sanjiv Khanna.
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The court has been approached by Mr. Kaushik Kumar Majumdar, a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute and a Fulbright Scholar. He has 85% orthopaedic disability and is completely dependent on his electric wheelchair for mobility. He was represented by Advocate-on-Record Mr. Avneesh Arputham and Advocates Ms Anuradha Arputham and Ms Geetanjali
As per the petition, while travelling from Bangalore to Kolkata in December 2017, Mr. Majumdar was denied boarding by Air India on the ground that he must remove all the wires from his electric wheelchair for it to be put in the aircraft’s cargo hold. To this, he told the Air India staff that there was no guideline or legal requirement for removing all the wires as he had already made the battery inert by disabling it from the main panel.
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Further, he reasoned with them saying that he couldn’t remove the wires as no one would be able to put the wires back together at the landing airport in Kolkata, and he would be rendered immobile. However, the airline staff paid no heed to his request and did not allow him to board the plane. They also blamed him for delaying the flight and allegedly humiliated him publicly.
Mr. Majumdar now asserts that this incident highlights the discrimination and prejudice faced by the PWDs on a regular basis. He, therefore, demands appropriate policies or guidelines to ensure that PWDs can use air transport “without the gross violation of their dignity and are not subjected to humiliation as well as trauma at the behest of the airport authorities and airline staff”.
As for Air India, he claims that it violated his dignity and that its acts were in contravention of Articles 5 and 9 of the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities, apart from Articles 12 and 14 of the Indian Constitution. He alleges,
“…the Respondents have violated Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution i.e. the Right to Life and Liberty and equal treatment of the persons with disabilities. It is submitted that the Right to Life within its meaning includes not just physical existence but Right to live with Dignity and the persons with disabilities deserve an equally dignified, dutiful and respectful behaviour extended to others.
It is submitted that every person has the Right to Accessibility under Article 21 and the right to move freely throughout the territory of India under Article 19(1)(d). Furthermore, the Right to Accessibility is also a statutorily protected right under Sections 40 and 41 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.”
Mr. Majumdar then places on record several suggestions to ensure that the rights of PWDs are not violated while using air transport and prays for the following reliefs:
- Direct the Centre and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to frame appropriate policies/rules/guidelines to ensure that PWDs are able to use air transport “without violating their dignity”.
- Direct the airlines to form dedicated cells/departments/nodal bodies for hearing grievances of PWDs, along with provisions for a summary and effective redressal to their grievances.
- Direct DGCA to issue appropriate directions/rules/guidelines to ensure sensitization and training programmes for the authorities and staff members of the airlines and airports, with regard to the needs of PWDs.
- Direct the Centre and the DGCA to frame appropriate policies/rules/guidelines to ensure that every airport has at least one ‘One Stop Facilitation Desk/Centre’ for PWDs to assist them, and at least one ‘Complaints Resolution Officer’ for amicable settlement of complaints by conciliation and mediation.
- Direct the Centre and the States to create awareness about Section 92 of the Act and to publicise it widely to ensure that PWDs are not subjected to insults, violence, intimidation, humiliation etc.
- Direct the Centre and the States to conduct mandatory sensitization and awareness workshops for all government officers and personnel dealing with PWDs.
- Direct the Centre and the States to create awareness regarding rights of PWDs and their special needs.