Birth of Public Interest Litigation
Barrister Aneeek R. Haque writes for DOT :
Couple of months ago I was invited by an NGO to attend a book launching program for the Persons with Disability (PwD) in a hotel in Dhaka. It took place in the conference room located in the basement of that hotel. Once the program started, those of us who were present saw that it sadly had no proper access for disabled people to come to the basement, let alone toilet facility for them. The Chief Guest in that ceremony, Mm. Justice Naima Haider expressed her astonishment in the program and lamented the fact how much disabled persons are neglected in our country. Next I came across a post from one of my fellow lawyers, that she went to a very famous shopping mall with movie theater with her disabled aunt and it also lacked any facility whatsoever for the disabled including access to the mall and off course toilets.
Now I have an aunt, in fact she is the youngest sister of my Mom, who lost her mobility due to polio when she was in her secondary school. She didn’t let that at all to be a factor. I have seen her struggles and I must admit that she is the most courageous woman I have ever seen. She finished her studies from Rajshahi University and is now an SVP in AB Bank. She travels all around the world but it is only here in Bangladesh that she faces all sorts of obstacles. So this case touched a very personal chord.
That made me interested and started the research. To my utter astonishment I found out that we have all the laws in place which guarantees that persons with disabilities shall have all the privileges as we, the so called able-bodied persons, enjoy.
According to a survey, 15% Bangladeshi suffers from disability of some sort. And in 2013 Bangladesh Government enacted প্রতিবন্ধীব্যক্তিরঅধিকারওসুরক্ষাআইন, ২০১৩, which guarantees that the PwDs shall enjoy certain rights no matter whatever the other laws say (section 16). Then we went through various laws that deal with provisions of building structures. We saw that Building Construction Act 1952 and National Building Code 2006 are the main statutory guidelines we have with Building Construction Rules 1996 and Dhaka Metropolitan Building Construction (Construction, Development, Protection and Removal) Rules 2008. And all of these contains provisions that all the buildings, be it Government or Private, must have “Universal Access”, meaning that there must be provisions for PwDs and also there must be special toilet facilities for PwDs as we see all over the world. Coupled with it, the BRTA is also entrusted with the task of ensuring that all the public transport is equipped with staff and instrument and 5% seats needs to be reserved for PwDs in those.
We figured that the following authorities are responsible to ensure that the PwDs enjoy their legal rights, (i) Ministry of Social Welfare, (ii) Ministry of Housing and Public Works Department, (iii) Rajdhani UnnayanKartripakkha, (iv) Chittagong Development Authority, (v) Rajshahi Development Authority, (vi) Khulna Development Authority and (vii) Bangladesh Road Transport Authority and we made these bodies our respondents.
So, with Advocates Aynunnahar Lipi and Shaklan Emon as my volunteer petitioners, filed Writ Petition No. 15840 of 2018. The Hon’ble High Court Division presided over by Mr. Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed and Mr. Justice Md. Iqbal Kabir heard the matter and issued Rule Nisi and asked Ministry of Public works to submit a report within 3 months stating how many government offices under their auspices are accessible to PwDs and is equipped with restrooms for PwDs; further asked RAJUK, CDA, RDA and KDA to submit a report within 3 months stating how many designs for construction is submitted before them for approval which has the above facilities for PwDs and how many are actually built with the said facilities and also directed BRTA to submit a report within 3 months as to how many public transports have access for PwDs and what steps BRTA have taken to ensure 5% seats are reserved for PwDs.
It’s a long journey ahead. We just filed the case and now waiting to see the Govt. authority reaction and their report. We found that the authorities have failed their legal duty to protect the interest of PwDs all these days. I only hope that this case would at least go some way of ensuring that the PwDs can live in our society with proper dignity which they are not only guaranteed to in our constitution but they rightly deserve.
The writer is an advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court.