ADVOCATING FOR A PARTICIPATORY APPROACH TO BUILD INCLUSIVE CITIES
Recommending reforms to build fully inclusive cities for persons with disabilities
Urban planning processes have long failed to account for the needs of marginalised groups, including persons with disabilities, the elderly, and women. This renders cities inaccessible, hostile, and exclusionary. With 2.21% of the total population of India's 121 crores or 2.68 crores people deemed to be persons with disabilities, of which 31% live in urban areas, the exclusion faced by them is particularly stark.
Inaccessibility of urban spaces, for those with visible and invisible disabilities, stems from a variety of factors including poor urban design, lack of usable urban infrastructure, and lack of safety and affordability. Moreover, the most common framework of accessibility in urban planning is barrier-free design, which does not account for diversity in gender, age, and social and economic background.
To address this and to make the case for the adoption of the more progressive Universal Design approach, Vidhi's white paper titled, 'Beyond Reasonable Accommodation: Making Karnataka's Cities Accessible by Design to Persons with Disabilities', proposes several legal and policy changes to ensure inclusive planning. It particularly focuses on the state and municipal laws that are responsible for implementing disability rights and vary across jurisdictions.
Representative participation imperative for inclusive urban planning
Urban planning needs a cross-disability perspective through participatory and representative planning with stakeholders who have thus far been marginalised. In line with this, Vidhi's research suggests specific amendments to a range of laws, including the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961, the Bangalore Development Authority Act, 1976, the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, 1976, the Karnataka Municipalities Act, 1964, and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike Act, 2020 – with a view to reviewing, updating, and streamlining the current fragmented approach to understanding accessibility standards.
- Empowering ward committees to function as representative local bodies and ensuring representation of women with disabilities in these committees.
- Extending preferential policy in public procurement tenders to include persons with disabilities as well as incentivising tenderers to employ persons with disabilities.
- Sensitising all parties and agencies involved in urban planning to the requirements of persons with disabilities and the applicable standards of accessibility.
- Conducting periodic reviews and audits of existing accessibility standards by empanelled professionals including persons with disabilities.
- Creating awareness, sensitisation, training and capacity building at different levels of government to ensure that accessibility is adopted as a norm in urban planning processes.
The white paper emphasises the need to adopt Universal Design as a foundational principle, which necessitates actively involving local participants in urban planning. This approach also significantly reduces the overall vulnerabilities that urban spaces create for the entire population.
While the laws examined in the white paper are specific to Karnataka, the findings and recommendations are relevant to and implementable across Indian cities.
As a result of the research it conducted, Vidhi is currently:
- Working with the Urban Development Department, Government of Karnataka on a series of inclusive urban reforms at the state level, and engaging with its sister agencies such as the Directorate of Town and Country Planning, the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation, and the Directorate of Municipal Administration.
- Working with the United Nations Resident Coordinator's Office in collaboration with the National Institute of Urban Affairs to develop a policy brief on achieving gender and disability inclusive urban development in Indian cities.
'I'd like to congratulate the team at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy on the release of their path-breaking white paper.
The white paper adopts a very different approach while addressing questions concerning disability and urban planning. This
would go a long way in bringing about a shift in the thinking of urban planners, to enable and evolve cities that are
designed for all, including women and persons with all categories of disabilities.'
— TVS Basavaraju
FORMER STATE COMMISSIONER, RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES ACT, GOVERNMENT OF KARNATAKA