SC orders fast-tracking of accessibility at all public buildings

Tuesday, 25 June 2013 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Supreme Court last week Monday (17 June) requested the Attorney General to follow up with the Ministry of Social Services to ensure all circulars issued by the Social Services Ministry promoting accessibility in the State sector shall also be extended to the much-overlooked private sector. This Ministry circular MSSS/7/8/ACC dated 4 October 2012 along with the Supreme Court Order SCFR 221/2009 of 2011 April 2007, the gazetted accessibility regulations and the Cabinet paper of 16 April 2009, produced at Courts by the DSG Sanjay Rajaratnam, it was observed notifies only the secretaries of the Government ministries, district secretaries and chief secretaries of the provincial councils. The Supreme Court made this order in hearing a public interest litigation Fundamental Rights Application SCFR 221/2009 filed by accessibility activist Dr. Ajith C.S. Perera. Dr. Perera, himself a paraplegic and a fervent advocate to have unhindered access to public buildings and facilities with safety for everyone, appeared in person on a wheelchair and successfully pursued singlehanded. The Bench at last this hearing comprised Chief Justice Mohan Pieris PC, Justice Chandra Ekanayake and Justice Sathya Hettige PC. DSG Sanjay Rajaratnam represented the Attorney General. In making his submissions at the supreme courts Dr. Perera said at this apex Court after lengthy deliberations twice before, this case was decided and orders issued on 27 April 2011 concerning the new public buildings, but he simply overlooked the equal importance of the parts of public buildings that undergo reconstructions or renovations and the ATMs. Perera further said an estimated 25% of Sri Lanka’s population due to numerous debilitating conditions have their mobility restricted and their immediate families affected. Hence in the larger interest of the day-to-day life of a wide range of people needing to access public buildings and furthermore, to optimise the benefits of the development programs of the Government and the meaningful realisation of the ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Idiri Dakma’ it is vital to get renovation work in the Clause 3 of the accessibility regulations cover, also recognised by the Supreme Court and ordered to comply with the 2011 April 27 SC orders. He also emphasised that with reconstructions, we get a second opportunity to put right the earlier made blunders and hence focusing is far more fruitful and rewarding than dreaming of making the existing buildings accessible years later. Dr. Perera spotted the circular DSG Rajaratnam produced to the bench was only concerning the existing buildings given extended time until next year October but could not get a further opportunity to be heard again on this subject. However, the Court was made to believe by DSG Rajaratnam that the above circular issued by the Ministry of Social Services also concerns about the building parts that undergo reconstruction or renovation and thereby it should serve well the purpose of the petitioner, which was not the reality. Dr. Perera further pointed out that this circular had been sent nine long months ago in October last year and as indicated in this circular itself and as rightly pointed out by the Members of the National Council for the disabled people where he too was a member until 2010, hardly anything had happened concerning accessibility at existing public buildings. Regardless of the degree of ability in daily life, we all need to access and use a high proportion of public buildings that belong to the private sector such as banks, hotels and resorts, hospitals, shopping complexes and institutions of education. More than State buildings, it is often the private sector buildings we access in daily life and we cannot to overlook them. The Court order he received concerning new buildings, Dr. Perera said, proved to be an effective means to communicate and convince the private sector as well to start complying with accessibility regulations. Hence he was praying to get the 2011 order extended to include ongoing modifications also comply and thereby prevent colossal waste that results from still doing what the laws forbid to do. Dr. Perera then prayed for the Attorney General to ensure that the Social Services Ministry shall also communicate to the private sector requesting them to comply with the accessibility regulations. The Chief Justice thereafter directed the DSG to do the needful accordingly. In conclusion the bench recognised and appreciated the untiring efforts taken over a long period of time by Dr. Perera in promoting and establishing accessibility facilities complying with the design standards in the greater interest of the country and all people and thanked him for the efforts taken to come to courts. Earlier on 27 April 2011, Dr. Perera’s efforts bore fruit as we see a good start to most new buildings complying with when the Supreme Court issued orders meeting the design standards and access regulation No. 1 of 17 October 2006 and thereby the country and people beginning to enjoy dividends.