Guwahati: In a path-breaking judgement on making services accessible to persons with disabilities in the state, the Gauhati High Court has imposed penalties on a gym and the Assam government for discrimination against such a person.
Gauhati High Court Judge Ujjal Bhuyan, last month, ordered a prominent gym here and the Assam government to pay Rs 50,000 each as a penalty in a 2011 writ petition filed by Arman Ali, Executive Director of National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP) against inaccessible, disabled-unfriendly services by the gym.
According to the case history, Ali had applied for a membership with the gym in 2011. On realising his disability, the gym demanded as a condition for membership doctors certificates from both his physician as well as an orthopedician.
The gym also subjected him to a rigorous workout in an attempt to discourage him, during which he was also put through humiliation and ignominy by members of the staff and other users, Ali's petition stated. "I was almost treated like an untouchable and they used all tactics to discourage me. The final straw was their offer of a month-long conditional membership with charges equivalent to an annual membership," Ali said.
Referring to the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 and its successor, Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016, which have equal opportunities and non-discrimination as its fulcrum, Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, in his order, also made a reference to Section 29 of the RPWD Act, which casts a duty on appropriate governments to conduct, encourage, support or promote awareness campaigns and sensitisation programmes to ensure RPWD were protected.
Justice Bhuyan also directed the Assam government to ensure that all officers and employees of the Social Welfare Department undergo training and awareness programmes and campaigns in terms of Section 39 of the 2016 Act in accordance with commissioner of persons with disabilities, Assam and Assam State Legal Services Authority.
In his order, made available this week, he also instructed that the commissioner and secretary to the Assam government, Social Welfare Department to immediately chalk out a detailed programme to give effect to the directive.
Top officials commissioner and secretary, Social Welfare Department, has further been instructed to issue a general circular to all government and private establishments, highlighting the salient features of the 2016 Act and to ensure that public buildings and public facilities and services are made accessible to persons with disabilities. Such instructions are to be issued within two months from the date of receipt of the court's order.
"This judgement makes the private sector accountable for all their services. All private sector service providers must have a clear cut policy for people with disabilities. This is now a law of the land and people with disabilities will not take it lying down any longer," Ali said.
This is one of the first writ petitions on disability discrimination against a private service provider giving public services and the respondents included the Union of India, chief commissioner, persons with disabilities along with the Assam government, Golds Gym and WARE and WANTS TRADING PVT (its Assam franchise), Ali claimed.