Disabled passengers in Mumbai are finding it hard to travel on suburban trains as access to escalators and lifts has remained cut off across all stations on western and central lines since March. Officials said the need to make these amenities functional has not arisen yet as footfall at railway stations is low due to travel restrictions on local trains.
Even as suburban trains are not open for the general public, the railways has made an exception for the disabled to access train services. While the move announced in October brought relief, the decision to keep escalators and lifts non-functional has made the commute tough.
Ruhool Ameen, who uses a wheelchair, travels from Ghatkopar to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj station every week. He now needs a helper for moving around inside the station premises. His friend Babu Shaikh lifts him from the wheelchair onto the stairs, and Ameen drags himself on the staircase a step at a time to reach the foot overbridge. He is again put back on the wheelchair only to dismount a few minutes later to repeat the entire exercise to go down the stairs to the platform.
“It is excruciating exercise. I asked railway officials to start the lift, but they said the lifts will remain shut until the general public is allowed to travel on local trains,” Ameen said.
The decision to block and barricade certain sections of the railway station, including major ones like Dadar, CSMT, Churchgate, Andheri, has prevented the visually impaired from using tactile paving that facilitates their movement.
Physically disabled persons have complained that several services have been rendered inaccessible to them in order to ensure distancing norms are followed.
Dr Vyankatesh Parlikar, attached with Shatabdi hospital in Kandivali, has haemophilia and lower limb mobility issues. He suffers from regular bleeding problems. “I use crutches because of weak knees. But in railway stations, I am scared to climb stairs. I fear if I slip, or my crutches fall, who will help me?” he asks, adding that once when he had to travel to KEM hospital, he was forced to use a cab because navigating through the station was not possible.
Central Railway spokesperson Anil Kumar Jain said entry and exit points had to be limited when lockdown was announced since trains were accessible only to government employees. “Lifts and escalators are shut since their use is limited. We will start them once the normal public is allowed to use trains,” Jain added.
At present, bank employees and women are allowed to use trains along with government employees. Senior citizens are forced to climb stairs to reach the platform. Sumit Thakur, chief public relations officer of the Western Railway, said, “The WR is deliberating over when lifts and escalators can be reopened.”
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