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‘Integral for Equal Participation of All’: Madras HC Directs Govt to Make Tourist Places Disabled-friendly

The Madras High Court’s Madurai bench recently directed the Tamil Nadu government to devise a programme in consultation with expert bodies, which includes persons with disabilities, to make tourist destinations in the state accessible for the disabled.

The bench of Justices R Mahadevan and J Sathya Narayana Prasad said that accessible tourism is integral for equal participation of persons with disabilities in recreation and cultural life, like the other persons.

The bench directed that the tourist destination should be made disabled-friendly in accordance with the standards of accessibility as formulated under section 40 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, and other applicable guidelines.

Court also asked the government to prepare and publish a travel guide for disability-friendly and accessible tourist destinations.

The order was passed in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a physically challenged man who alleged that when he went to visit Courtallam Waterfalls in Tirunelveli with his friends, he could not join in the fun since the waterfall did not have facilities to make it accessible for the disabled.

The man whose lower limbs were afflicted due to inappropriate intramuscular injections given to him to treat polio when he was a child argued that the statutes mandate that the state authorities will make all facilities — including access to tourist spots and recreational areas — available to persons with disabilities.

His counsel referred to section 29 of the RPwD Act, 2016 and alleged that though the government and local authorities should take measures to promote and protect the rights of all persons with disabilities to have a cultural life, there are lacunas in implementing the enactment.

However, the government pleader assured the court that the government has been treating the physically challenged persons on a par with other persons and it would take necessary steps for easy accessibility of the tourist places in the state to disabled persons as well.

The court took note of the submissions and observed that as per the report of the World Health Organization about 1 billion people around the world and in India, more than 2.1% of the population live with some form of disability and the number is likely to increase in coming decades.

“Therefore, effective steps have to be taken by the Government and local authorities to protect the rights of the persons with disabilities by ensuring accessibilities in all walks of life,” the court said.

Referring to the notification dated June 15, 2022, issued by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, relating to the draft version of the accessible tourism Guidelines for India, and the ‘Barrier-Free Kerala Tourism’ programme initiated by the Kerala state government, the court directed the Tamil Nadu government to devise a programme to transform tourist destinations.

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