While India has advanced in various fields with the use of modern technology, it still lags in terms of providing disabled-friendly infrastructure and spaces to most of its differently-abled citizens.
Taking note of this, and wanting to remove barriers to accessibility in the judiciary courts across the nation, the Supreme Court has decided to carry out a thorough accessibility audit to better understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities. The court will use the data derived from the audit to assure their improved access to the legal system.
Committee Of Experts To Conduct Audit
Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud established a Supreme Court Committee on Accessibility, on December 3 in honour of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The committee will be led by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, who has been ordered to perform an accessibility assessment covering both physical and technological accessibility, the apex court said in a statement, reported The Hindu.
"The committee has also been tasked to prepare and release a questionnaire for persons with disabilities, who visit the Supreme Court premises to assess the nature and extent of the problems they face," it said. Moreover, to ensure a comprehensive audit, the Supreme Court will also be adding inputs that the committee will seek from Supreme Court advocates, litigants and interns.
Besides a sitting judge, a professor from the National Law School of India University,(NLSIU) Bengaluru, a differently abled person employed at the Supreme Court, a differently abled advocate nominated by the Supreme Court Bar Association and a person nominated by the Centre for Disability Studies at NALSAR University of Law will also be a part of the committee. The member secretary of the committee will be an officer of the top court's registry.
After proper assessment and evaluation, the committee will prepare a report summarising the data collected from the audits and surveys, post which, it will recommend proposals that will help remove barriers to access.
Initiative In Line With WHO's Theme
The Chief Justice of India's effort, according to the Supreme Court, is in keeping with this year's theme of the World Health Organization: "Transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world".
On November 26, CJI Chandrachud spoke about the Supreme Court's decision to conduct an accessibility audit of the top court facilities during the closing ceremony of Constitution Day celebrations – an event where President Draupadi Murmu was the chief guest.
Just last month, the CJI enlisted the help of senior advocate SK Rungta, who is the first visually-impaired lawyer to hold a senior position, to make courtrooms and proceedings more digitally accessible for the disabled.
Rungta had earlier suggested using software that could translate text documents into braille, thus helping visually-challenged lawyers to access documents mentioned during the hearings. As the chairman of the e-committee, CJI Chandrachud was impressed by the use of software and informed the advocate that he would like his assistance in making the courts more disabled-friendly. He decided to ask National Informatics Centre (NIC) to coordinate with Rungta for the same.
Moreover, the apex court's website, which earlier gave captchas in image form only, now has audio captchas too for those with hearing disabilities. CJI Chandrachud has also directed everyone that documents filed in the court have to be in a soft-copy format to increase accessibility.
Following the proposals made by the Supreme Court Committee based on the results of the audit, several more changes are expected to be welcomed in the country's judiciary courts to gradually help remove any and all barriers to accessibility.
Also Read: CJI Chandrachud Asks Visually-Challenged Lawyer To Help Make Courts More Disabled-Friendly