Supreme Court Advocates for Improved Airport Access for Disabled Individuals

In a significant move towards enhancing inclusivity and accessibility, the Supreme Court of India emphasized the necessity of developing a comprehensive standard operating procedure (SOP) to facilitate unimpeded access to airports for persons with disabilities. This directive came to light during a hearing on Monday, led by a bench that included Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, which deliberated on a petition filed by a woman confined to a wheelchair, recounting her challenging experience at Kolkata airport on January 30.

The petitioner’s ordeal prompted a critical examination of the current procedures at airports, particularly when it comes to screening individuals with disabilities. The case brought into focus an incident where the petitioner, a wheelchair-bound woman, was asked to stand for a security check, raising concerns about the sensitivity and appropriateness of the existing protocols. Addressing Additional Solicitor General Vikramjit Banerjee, representing the Centre, Chief Justice Chandrachud pointedly remarked on the need for a more empathetic approach in handling such situations.

Joining Chief Justice Chandrachud on the bench were Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, who unanimously agreed on the urgency of establishing an effective SOP that caters to the unique needs of disabled passengers, ensuring their dignity and comfort during airport security processes. The bench has scheduled a follow-up hearing on April 19 to further discuss the implementation of these necessary changes.

Previously, on February 26, the apex court had already signaled its intention to mandate the formulation of an SOP aimed at making airport access seamless for individuals with disabilities. This initiative is expected to involve key stakeholders, including the Centre and the Airports Authority of India, among others.

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The case highlighted significant gaps in the current system, such as the absence of female security guards and adequate support staff at airports to assist passengers who use wheelchairs. Given that airport security is predominantly managed by the Central Industrial Security Force alongside state police forces, the call for an improved SOP underscores the collective responsibility of various agencies to uphold the rights and welfare of disabled travelers.

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