If public transport system is not catering to the needs of disabled, their livelihood is being denied. It is of utmost importance that the Disability Act 1995 is implemented in letter and spirit. This is concluding part of the two part series
Having looked at guidelines for making built environment barrier free and the idea of relocating the compartment meant for PwD in the first part, in the second and concluding part, we will see the issue of large level differences between the coach floor levels and Platform levels and how it can be tackled.
This brings us to the question of why the level differences are inordinately high and why they cannot be minimized.
According to Indian Railways Schedule of Dimensions Revised 2004 (IR-SOD2004), for the wide stock passenger trains (Mumbai Suburban) the level of the 3660 mm wide coach can be at 1345 mm in unloaded condition above the top of rail (ToR) and 1200 mm when fully loaded. This is valid for trains on steel springs belonging to older design. The present set of Siemens design is on pneumatic suspension which maintains the level at 1200 mm from ToR even with varying load.
The platform level to be constructed in accordance with IR-SOD2004 can be within the range of 760 mm to 840 mm from ToR. This means that the level difference between the coach floor and the station platform can be in the range of 360 mm to 585 mm (14” to 24”). With coach floor projecting 1830 mm (actually ~1780 mm) from the centerline of rails and the edge of the platform coping at 1670 mm at the least, the platform will be under the flooring with a maximum overlap of 110 mm.
The reality on ground is only partially true of things being in accordance with the IR-SOD2004. Sometimes the horizontal overlap is not only missing but small gap prevails. While the maximum vertical floor level differences exist touching the worked out 585 mm, the minimum difference is only as little as 100 mm as seen at Chunabhatti or Thane, not as high as 350 mm worked out with IR-SOD2004. This means that there is scope to seriously revisit the IR-SOD2004 in this regard.
While it is noticed that the rail at stations do dip or rise uniformly, visible to the eye clearly, as at Reay Road, and the station platforms too should generally be at similar uniform gradient. It is observed that the station platform level itself is not uniformly horizontal along the edge lengthwise or rising or dipping to match the rise or dip of tracks adjoining. Thus the level difference between the coach floor and the station platform varies even along the same platform edge for the same train. This is very clear at Chunabhatti and Andheri stations.
There are several stations located on the tracks which are on the curve. It is assumed that the curve radius is within the norms prescribed in the IR-SOD2004. The problem arising out of the curvature needs to be dealt with independently insofar as the horizontal and vertical gaps are concerned. However, with majority of stations being with straight tracks, raising platform levels to the level 1200 mm above ToR will ensure that in fully loaded condition, there will be no level difference and in fully empty condition, commuters will have to climb just 145 mm (< 6”). In fact for the new age coaches, platform height at 1200 mm from ToR will more or less match the coach height. Even the horizontal gap can be kept to mere 40 mm to account for construction inaccuracies of Civil Works and coach manufacture.
The edge has variety of non-skid surface, even on the same platform. Many of these become slippery with film of water, which abound during monsoon. Considerable water spills on to this edge from the decelerating or accelerating train during rain. This problem can be tackled separately but prima facie it pertains to collecting and disposing the rain water flowing into the rail coach roof gutter without letting it fall on the platform. At some places, erroneously slippery tiles have been placed such as at Mumbai Central suburban section. These need to be replaced.
The reason for high level difference could be attributed to railways following their “Schedule of Dimensions” which has been in use since 1913, updated periodically; platforms being constructed to designs meant for non-suburban train coaches. These coaches are 3250 mm wide (~3150 at floor level) while the suburban rail coaches are wide stock of 3660 mm (~3560 at floor level) width on the same standard rail coach chassis on broad gauge bogie. Horizontal gap for the non-suburban trains come out to be as much as 95 mm. The first footboard level generally matches the platform level. In suburban train system, the concept of footboard does not exist; the floor of the coach is the footboard.
Thus it can be seen that reducing the vertical gaps is possible; how this can be done needs to be investigated, platform by platform. By reducing this gap, the fatal accidents occurring by commuter falling in the gap will have been addressed in addition to providing some respite to all commuters, including to PwD insofar as boarding or alighting is concerned. With the compartments for PwD relocated to extremities, some methods can be evolved to enable even the wheelchair bound person to board rail coaches and commute in the suburban rail system. These methods adopted at the extremities then will not cause disturbances to normal commuter movement.
Considering space constraints at certain stations, it may be appropriate to provide elevators for PwD. Sometimes people with severe ankle and knee problems find ramps unsuitable as also the staircases; only elevators are suitable to them.
There are staircases and ramps which are very wide. Hand-railings need to be provided at spacing between 2.5m to 4m so as to assist commuters at large, but those carrying loads, plus those finding climbing difficult without support.
While MUTP was planned to reduce the passenger density in the coach, increase in rail commuters from about 60 lakh per day when MUTP was planned to 75 lakh today has kept the load at status quo while platforms, staircases and FOBs have become more crowded.
Therefore, to quickly evacuate commuters arriving at platforms quickly, escalators need to be introduced. Lesser crowd on the platform will also facilitate the PwD.
With application of mind and determination, facilities to PwD can be provided that will ensure that they receive equal opportunity and full participation. With these, there would also be greater safety and convenience in travel for normal commuters as well.
There are other amenities that need to be looked at more expeditiously simply because these can be implemented with least disturbance to operations of Railway and commuters. These are providing toilets to meet the requirements of PwD especially the wheel chair bound, providing ticketing windows and also the vendor counters suitable to PwD, the hand-railings of 40mm SS and not larger and its method of fixing to the wall or column, providing central hand-railings on wide staircases, ramps and FOBs and guiding tactile tiles all over the station areas with proper layout. There should not be any change in floor levels without clear indications such as at staircases or hand-railings. Good architectural practices need to be followed at all places that will not only cater to the needs of PwD but also for normal commuters.
(Sudhir Badami is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). He is member of the Committee Constituted by the Bombay High Court for making the Railways, especially the Suburban Railways System Friendly towards Persons with Disability. While he has been an active campaigner against noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. Mr Badami can be contacted at [email protected])
The major frauds in the banking industry during the last two decades were mainly because of the failure of the audit profession in identifying the signals in advance
The appointment of statutory central auditors for public sector banks (PSBs) was the prerogative of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) till a few years back, and the banks had practically no say in this matter. This system ensured the independence of auditors, who were not obligated to the banks for their appointment and hence could report their findings without fear or favour. The independence of auditors is widely considered as the cornerstone of the public accounting profession.
However, from the year 2008-2009, the government in its wisdom granted managerial autonomy to the public sector banks to appoint their statutory auditors, by directly sourcing the names of auditors from the panel maintained by Controller & Auditor General of India (CAG) and getting it approved by the RBI, which in effect is a mere formality. However, the RBI has informed the banks that though the autonomy is given to PSBs, the norms for empanelment and remuneration of auditors shall continue to be as prescribed by it. Further, RBI has advised all PSBs to frame their own policy for appointment of statutory central/branch auditors.
This revised practice has been followed for the last four years and it is time for RBI to reflect on this practice. To pre-empt any misuse, it is desirable to make the following changes in the present system to make the auditors’ appointment above board.
If you analyze the reasons for the major frauds in the banking industry during the last two decades, it is evident that it is mainly because of the failure of the audit profession in identifying the signals in advance, many times relying too much on the statements made by the managements of banks. The Harshad Mehta scam, Ketan Mehta scam, the GTB scam, CRB scam, Satyam Computers scam and many others have the auditors squarely to blame for their inability to smell a rat, even when the regulators have found something amiss in their operations with the banks. And in most of these cases, it is the media who finds out skeletons in the cupboards of banks, rather than the auditors, whose job it is to do.
Therefore, when you give autonomy to the banks, it should be coupled with checks and balances to ensure that such autonomy is not misused. As per the media reports, the credit rating of most of the large public sector banks has been recently downgraded, which calls for urgent steps to improve the functioning of banks and their corporate governance standards. As the saying goes “prevention is better than cure”. Hence it is advisable to continuously improve the systems when the going is good rather than take corrective steps after the happening of a scam. The steps suggested above will help in ensuring the independence of the auditors and will go a go a long way in strengthening both the banking institutions and the audit profession in our country.
(The author is a banking analyst and he writes for Moneylife under a pen-name ‘Gurpur’.)
In the US, domestic political compulsions prevent hiking taxes on their super rich, despite people like Warren Buffet offering to pay higher taxes. On the other hand, our poverty-stricken rural poor, designated Below Poverty Liners, are driven to suicides
We, in India, are not the only nation to suffer the likes of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s seventh disappointing Union Budget. There is stringent criticism of the US Budget, too.
Today, both India and the USA stand at the cusp of economic downturn, but for varied reasons. The US, like all the major western economies, is trying to steady itself. But domestic political compulsions prevent hiking taxes on their super rich, despite people like Warren Buffet offering to pay higher taxes. President Obama is digging his heels on health insurance reforms and stepping up on local job creation.
Here, in India, we have a very wide income disparity—with the numbers of the super-rich also termed ultra-high networth individuals going up many times and also appearing in the international top rich listing, and on the other hand, our poverty-stricken essentially rural poor, designated BPL (Below Poverty Liners) are driven to suicides. The Planning Commission estimates the poverty ratio at 29.8% in 2009-10 based on calorific consumption patterns linked to the Consumer Price Index.
Taking the American budget first. Paul Krugman, writing for the New York Times News Service headline—Pink slime economics on the US Budget, levels a serious charges—“Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in US history... isn’t just its cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy... (It) purports to reduce the deficit—but the alleged deficit reduction depends on completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found in closing tax loopholes... Representative Paul Ryan the chairman of the House Budget Committee, however, has categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefit the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital, pay lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families... a kind of throwback to the 19th century, where unregulated corporations bulked out their bread with plaster of Paris and flavoured their beer with sulphuric acid... would actually make the deficit bigger even as it inflicted huge pain.
“We’ve had irresponsible and/or deceptive budgets in the past. Ronald Reagan’s budgets relied on voodoo, on the claim that cutting taxes on the rich would somehow lead to an explosion of economic growth. George W Bush’s budget officials liked to play bait-and-switch, low-balling the cost of tax cuts by pretending that they are temporary, then demanding that they be made permanent... The House Republican budget isn’t about to become a law as long as president Barack Obama is sitting in the White House.” Krugman ends with a scatting indictment—“For a lasting budget deal can only work if both the parties can be counted on to be responsible and honest—and the House Republicans have just demonstrated, as clearly as anyone could wish, that they are neither.”
Our Budget for 2012-13, too, has been an uninspiring exercise, inasmuch as it seeks to bring about meaningless cosmetic changes—the basic threshold hiked by just a trifling Rs20,000 to Rs2,00,000 when the Parliamentary Committee had suggested Rs3,00,000. The proposed new deduction of Rs5,000 for preventive health check is begging a lot of questions. The Rajiv Gandhi Equity Scheme has many conditionalities like restricting its availability only to first-time investors, maximum of Rs50,000, three-year lock-in. Restricting the non deduction of taxes at source only on savings bank accounts where the balances maintained by an average Indian are so very low; instead it should have been applicable to all bank deposits (the old Section 80L permitted this)—savings, term and recurring—to be really meaningful.
Adding to the miseries of the aam admi this budget further proposes a major shift in taxing services consequently affecting the poor more than the rich. It has pushed up prices of necessities across the board. Sushil Kumar Modi, the deputy chief minister of Bihar and chairman of the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on GST (Goods and Services Tax) rightly points out that the Centre, by taxing activities listed in the State List, has kicked in constitutional impropriety that lies in the heart of Centre-state jurisdiction as it tantamounts to encroachment on the territory reserved for the states. It transgresses the Lakshman Rekha laid out by the Constitution and also runs the risk of failing to meet judicial scrutiny.
The concept of service taxation initially brought in by the Finance Act of 1994 began with taxing just three services, has today swelled to tax 119 under Entry 97 of List 1 to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. It was expected to yield Rs95,000 crore revenue during 2011-12. With the introduction of the Negative List approach, the expanded tax base is expected to bring in increased revenues of Rs1,24,000 crore in the current fiscal.
Perhaps, it is for the first time this budget contains measures to tackle the menace of black money, anti-cross border tax avoidance, benami transactions, inclusion of more tax payers and a more transparent tax network between states, PAN-based GST-N network for facilitating subsidy deliveries, taxing gold purchases and sale of agricultural land, widening corporate taxation, re-opening I-T assessments, flat taxation for incomes generated out of deemed credit, investments and expenditure, tracing and taxing the flow of hot money, bringing transparency in market transactions.
While the direct taxes are reduced by Rs4,500 crore, the indirect taxes increased by Rs40,000 crore. The budgetary allocation for education is a measly 0.73% of the GDP (gross domestic product), an increase from 0.69% earlier, when the international norms for spend on education is 6% of the GDP. Allocation for rural development declined from Rs74,100 crore to Rs73,175 crore, with the actual expenditure last year only Rs 67,138 crore. The allocation for defence is 2% of national income. Both education and defence do not seem to be on the government’s high priority list.
The Indian Union Budget has not brought about any substantive measures to reignite the slowing down Indian economy that is primarily a result policy paralysis arising of the government’s inability to address concerns on vital issues, bringing down GDP growth of 9% in the past two-and-half years to 6.1% in the quarter ending December 2012. Even a fall of 1% brings about almost 15 lakh jobs and a lot of pain.
Economist SS Tarapore, a former deputy governor of the RBI, writing on Inflation will hurt the common person presents a grim warning—macro-economic scenario is fraught with dangers. After two years of close to double digit inflation, it has come down to 7%... created money will provide for growth and common person will suffer inconvenience of a little more inflation... This implies providing incentives to the upper income groups while inflation is to be borne by the lower income groups. The balance of payments Current Account Deficit (CAD) in 2011-12 is expected to be close to 4% of GDP which is even higher than that in 1990-91. The present levels of reserves of $294 billion now cover only five months of imports and one year debt repayment have been stagnant and are now declining. Earlier the reserve cover was as high as 12 months. An unsustainable exchange rate invites external shocks, which could degenerate into a crisis like 1990-91 with an inevitable upsurge in inflation.
There is a crumbling of the rule of law with the neta-babus violating laws with impunity. They have given Raj Dharma, higher than the king, a go-bye. We Indians always held a rule of law expressed as dharma that provided coherence to our lives, reduced uncertainty and assured self-restraint. Bharat Ratna PV Kane rightly called our Constitution a Dharma text. The amendment, in the Budget, going back 50 years to counteract the Supreme Court ruling in the Vodafone tax case is bad enough, though all right thinking people don’t necessarily condone the tax avoidance strategy resorted to by them. The predatory taxation of Cairn to pay $90 a tonne, as against $18 to others. The reopening of environmental clearance to Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, which had carried out 25 environmental bio-safety studies by independent agencies, rigorous field trials by two agricultural universities and complied with all protocols to the government’s satisfaction for the Bt Brinjal. The cancellation of Norway’s Telenor licence initially given out corruptly. These are many of the UPA-2 government’s flip-flops of policy paralysis when it seems to be tying itself in knots because of Coalition Dharma compulsions and not the traditional Raj Dharma that has stood the test of time over the millennia.
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist).
Credits for inputs