Mumbai suburban railway network or the ‘lifeline of Mumbai’ is not always hassle-free for the passengers with disabilities as the reserved coaches for them are almost always encroached upon by the general commuters. During peak or non-peak hours, gatecrashing into handicapped coaches of Mumbai locals is a common sight. Awareness campaigns, paltry fine of Rs 500, Rs 1 lakh fine or imprisonment up to two years under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, or even public-shaming of able-bodied people by making them stand on crutches for the entire duration that the legal proceedings are being conducted — all these penalties, efforts and initiatives have crashed in failure as Railway Protection Force (RPF) and Government Railway Police (GRP) lack success in tackling lawless conduct of commuters.
Pranati Saha, a member of National Society for Equal Opportunities for the Handicapped (NASEOH, India) expressed with heavy heart that nobody is interested to look upon the problems faced by the disabled persons. “We, as humans, have lost our humanity and there’s no use of blaming the government or the administration. Many rules and regulations already exist, but no one is interested to follow them and we suffer as handicapped. What are our faults? Commuters even don’t have any regards especially for handicapped or senior citizens who travel in trains.”
A coach reserved for handicapped persons allows travellers who’re permanently disabled and also carry a medical certificate stating the same from the railways. Apart from them, Cancer/TB patients and pregnant ladies are also authorised to use a handicap coach.
Overcrowded trains with passengers more than their capacities make peak hours-Mumbai local travelling nothing less than warfare. Commuters, who fail to find room in jam-packed first and second class compartments, jump into the handicapped coach.
Priyanka Govekar, a handicap professional, said, “I travel daily by train. Handicapped compartments are usually filled by non-handicap commuters. Government and RPF need to consider this matter seriously. We need an all-time RPF police man in a handicapped compartment, especially during peak hours. A permanent solution to this problem is required to protect our rights as handicapped.”
However, a petty penalty of Rs 500 under Section 155 (1) of the Railway Protection Act has developed no fear of law amongst commuters, as not only they illegally board into the reserved coaches confidently but with equal audacity, they dare to abuse and create chaos inside the coaches for seats. To board a train and getting down, both are equally challenging for physically disabled passengers as the trespassers tend to stand on the footboards blocking the gates. Besides, the toll free helpline number pasted inside the handicapped compartments is often found inaccessible. Adding to the pain, in many cases RPF constables are hard to find on the platform and in other instances, it is the negligence of RPF that offenders get away with measly fines of Rs 150-200.
Shiv Sena MP Gajanan Kirtikar stated, “I had raised this concern many times before and again I will raise the issue in the Assembly. I am always there to solve the problems faced by disabled passengers, cancer patients, and pregnant women. I will also try to follow up with government about the proper implementation of laws in the handicapped compartments.”
While the activists working for the rights of disabled persons blame the police for their lackadaisical attitude towards the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act 2016, which recommends a two-year jail term and Rs 1 lakh fine for these lawbreakers, the RPF and GRP turn a blind eye, prefer to pass the buck to each other and push the responsibility to the sensitivity of the commuters towards their disabled co-passengers.
A K Jain, Senior Public Relations Officer of Central Railway assured that the department is monitoring the situation! “RPF and ticket checkers are keeping their eyes on the trespassers who travel in handicapped compartments and we are taking required action. We also work on the complaints posted on social media. Railways always try to create awareness amongst commuters with various campaigns. We will try our best to give disabled passengers better travelling experience in future,” he further added.