Inaccessible India

Recently, my mother shifted to a new ministry- the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. My mother often refers to me as a rebel without a cause, but bettering society is a cause, isn’t it? So naturally, I was super excited because well, I thought this was a ministry where my mother can actually make a change, and I can finally understand the work she does etc. But it was slightly disappointing to say the least, when I learnt that such a socially important ministry was, in reality, given very little importance. Most bureaucrats consider it a downfall to be transferred to such a ministry.

Now in such a ministry, one is often invited to the launches of social welfare schemes and campaigns, which are generally invite only events. So I was ecstatic when I got invited for the launch of the Accessible India Campaign. The Accessible India Campaign aims at making India differently-abled friendly, from government institutions to transport to railway stations/airports to government websites etc.

Even though I had seen posters and ads about the campaign around the city, I didn’t know much about it, so I asked my mother about the Campaign, and she handed me a brochure. The cover looked positively attractive, and I absolutely loved the logo for the Campaign, so I eagerly flipped through it.

Now at a Model UN when we submit solutions to be implemented at a conference, 3 minimum basics need to be covered- How are we going to go about implementing it; where do we get the finances and how will we decide who will contribute; where it will happen. These are general outlines so we know the solution is well thought out, and has clarity.

And the nicest way I could describe the proposal in the brochure would be disappointing.(Classical example to learn that one must never judge a book by its cover) I’m only an adolescent, and I could figure out loopholes on literally every page of the brochure. It was as if random numbers had been thought up without a reason. For example, one goal for the campaign says that by July 2019, 50% of all railway stations in India will be converted into accessible stations. Now nowhere was it mentioned on what basis this 50% will be decided, will it be urban or rural railway stations, or even how these will be made disabled friendly.

Since this was just a brochure, I decided not to judge too prematurely, and waited curiously for the actual launch, hoping that I will get answers to some of my questions.

To begin with, during the presentation they basically repeated exactly what was in the brochure- word to word.
Moreover, the launch was one to facilitate and award the most distinguished differently-abled persons in Indian Society. The list of awardees ranged from Academy winning screenplay writers on crutches to 3 year old kids who sang beautifully. And one thing almost all of the awardees had in common was that they had difficulty moving around. Now while the organizers at Vigyan Bhawan had provided one ramp for the awardees to move up to the stage, the ramp was extremely steep and most wheels had excessive difficulty moving up. Moreover, once they received their awards, the awardees had to circle around the auditorium, through a multitude of not so small steps and crowds to reach their original seats. Can you imagine climbing steep steps on crutches or some other kind of support?? Now add to that hundreds of people crowding around the steps. While each awardee had a personal individual escort, even the escort could only do so much.

How does the government plan on implementing the Campaign across the country, if it can’t make the launch site itself accessible??

Moreover, after the launch, I asked a few bureaucrats who had worked on the nitty-gritties of the campaign, the details about the campaign (like those I had mentioned above, about the criteria etc).
Thankfully, they were all blatantly honest. They said that the numbers had literally been decided randomly, they were far fetched and that absolutely no thought had been put into implementation. When I gave an expression of what my mother later described as a mix of shock and confusion, they decided to further clarify.
Their department heads asked them to project some numbers that would look good, so they did. Nobody knew how the government plans on implementing and achieving the listed goals. Literally. And nobody asks too many questions as it might affect their ACR , if they disagree with their boss. (ACR: Annual Confidential Review- at the end of the year, an officers boss[es] writes a review about how the officer works throughout the year, and gives a score out of 10.  8 and above is Outstanding. 6-8 is Very Good. ACR is what is looked at when considering an officer for promotions). After all, they just have to get through about a year or so, before they get transferred. And a bad ACR would negatively affect their future prospects in the office. So any problems relating to the campaign that arise can be handled by the person who succeeds them.

Now I don’t believe for a second that when these officers joined the services, they went in with such an attitude. But don’t you think it speaks a lot about our administration, when honest and hardworking officers are left with no option but to simply not care enough?? If our permanent executive, the backbone of the Indian administration has its hands tied by scores on a paper, is measured by that sheet of paper, then tell me, how is it any different from measuring all kids based on 1 marksheet?? How are we to bring about an actual change in the workings of the country if the people wanting to bring about a change simple cannot?? Where does this country go, when essentially no action can be taken to ameliorate the conditions??