SUNIL Gaonkar will be able to sell ice-creams once again. For Gaonkar, who suffers from 90 per cent locomotive disability, earning a livelihood had become a colossal task in the last decade or more. His food stall, inside city’s only national park, was razed in 1997 as it was “illegal”. But the Bombay High Court order passed on the eve of World Disability Day, directing the government to assist Gaonkar, is nothing short of a boon for Gaonkar.
Following a Supreme Court judgment, the government got rid of Gaonkar’s stall though he had acquired legitimate rights and licence in 1996. The Supreme Court had ordered the removal of all commercial activities in protected areas such as a national park or a sanctuary. After the government razed his stall, he had approached the forest department but failed to get any relief.
Gaonkar was only a year old when the polio virus hit him hard. “By then 40 per cent disability had already paralysed my body below the waist. But I completed my graduation and MBA,” says Gaonkar, who has been fighting for his case for over 18 years now. In 1998, however, while on his way to his hometown in Goa, the car he was travelling in collided with a truck.
After the accident, Gaonkar had applied for a flat under the chief minister’s discretionary quota 17 years ago but is yet to receive a communication from the CM’s Office. “It can allot multiple flats for politicians but not for the disabled who rightly deserve the benefit,” he says.
With a feeble chance of utilising his educational qualifications to the optimum, and the physical disability curtailing his movements, he was driven to start the stall that sold confectionery and ice-creams, to feed his disabled wife and toddler.
His lawyer, Zaman Ali, says ideally he should have been relocated somewhere else. It was argued that state while removing his stall did not even consider the fact that the creation of his commercial rights was by state. And given the scenario, it was argued, he could have been relocated outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, at least.
Gaonkar’s representation was disposed of with a direction to the state government to consider his request. The government, he points out, did not pay heed and provide him with an alternate arrangement.
Referring to the Constitution of India, the court said the government is ought to provide livelihood to the needy, especially the differently abled. In its view those covered under the Disabilities Act and the Directive Principles of State Policy, should be given preferential treatment. “The suburban collector is therefore, requested to provied a small stall under the current framework of rules and accordingly allot a space/stall for the petitioner outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park,” the high court ordered Tuesday. In addition, the court has also directed the collector to ensure that no other stall comes up in the area taking advantage of this order that is meant only for Gaonkar.
Equipped with the high court order, he is now hopeful to have a shop where he does not have to move too much. “Today is World Disability Day but all of the government schemes for us have only remained on paper,” he sighs.