For barrier-free environment

Moa Jamir

Bridging gap between policy and reality imperative for enhancing accessibility for PwDs in Nagaland 

A couple of years ago, during a visit to Nagaland Civil Secretariat, intense construction or retrofitting work was underway to install elevators/lifts in each wing of the building. The aim, purportedly, was to make the premises ‘friendly’ for persons with disabilities (PwDs). In an update on August 21, an employee at the core of Nagaland State operations revealed that these works are yet to be completed across all buildings. This succinctly illustrates how intentions, whether voluntary or not, along with policies and regulations, often remain confined to paper in the State, without significant implementation on the ground.

Nagaland State Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (SCPWD), Diethono Nakhro, highlighted this stark reality during a sensitisation workshop on Universal Accessibility and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act 2016, held on August 18. Despite the existence of rules and policies, numerous government offices and public spaces in the state lack the necessary infrastructure for accessibility by persons with disabilities.

“New public buildings and spaces are currently undergoing retrofitting processes to ensure accessibility, when they should have been originally designed and planned inclusively for all citizens,” she emphasized during the workshop, which was attended by engineers and officials from the Nagaland Public Works Department (PWD) (Housing).
However, the absence of regulations and policies is not the issue. 

Incidentally, as early as February 5, 2019, it was the Nagaland PWD (Housing) which issued a notification: “Henceforth, all public/government buildings in the state of Nagaland should be made accessible to person with disability (PwDs) and to create a barrier “free environment in all the buildings.”The notification also mandated disability-friendly public toilets, accessible doors, and compliance with specified standards. 

Notably, the “Nagaland Building Bye-Laws 2012,” issued by the State Urban Development Department, go even further by dedicating a chapter to “Additional Provisions for providing a barrier-free environment in public buildings for persons with disabilities.” This chapter outlines several provisions for PwDs, such as accessible entrances, ramps, designated parking spaces, guiding floor materials for the visually impaired, lifts with Braille signage, special toilets, and refuge areas.

Recently, during a Supreme Court hearing on July 17, it was informed that Nagaland has achieved compliance with most of the 13 provisions under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPwD) Act 2016 as of May 11, 2023. Although the State then is yet to fully comply with five provisions, it was later revealed that Nagaland is a frontrunner in implementing the RPwD Act, 2016 on paper, except for the establishment of a State Fund for PwDs as per Section 88 of the Act.

However, these seemingly comprehensive policies and rules are contradicted by the lived experiences and intermittent observations of individuals involved in advocating for the rights of PwDs, as pointed out during the August 18 workshop. As SCPWD mentioned, it is “entirely unacceptable” that a vast majority of government and public buildings and spaces remain inaccessible to PwDs, despite the periodic affirmations and regulatory frameworks designed to create a barrier-free environment. 

It is imperative for the Government of Nagaland to undertake corrective measures and ensure that its commitment to accessibility is translated into tangible improvements on the ground. To enhance accessibility for PwDs in Nagaland, it’s imperative for the State Government to transcend the role of a mere paper tiger in policies and effectively bridge the gap between policy and reality.

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