It is not possible to ply only low-floor buses (with a floor height of 400 mm) in all cities unless and until the allied infrastructure is fully in place, the Tamil Nadu government has told the Madras High Court. It has cited news reports of the low-floor buses in Bengaluru city having become inoperative during the recent floods.
The submission has been made in a counter-affidavit to a public interest litigation petition moved by cross disability rights activist Vaishnavi Jayakumar. She had challenged a government tender notification issued on October 10 for procurement of 1,771 fully built non-AC diesel buses, which included 1,170 buses with a floor height of 900 mm.
Opposing her plea on behalf of the government, S. Renganathan, Director, Institute of Road Transport, said there was no illegality in the notification and it did not violate either the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, or the statutory rules framed thereunder. He asserted that no court order too had been disobeyed.
The Director told the court that the notification issued in Tamil Nadu was similar to those that had been issued by Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service as well as Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation and therefore the statutory violations, as alleged by the petitioner, were nothing but imaginary.
Accusing the petitioner of having coined the term ‘universally accessible buses’ on her own, the Director said no such term could be found in the 2016 Act or the rules framed thereunder. He denied her claim that the government could buy only low-floor buses or buses with a maximum floor height of 650 mm but fitted with ramps/kneeling system/lifts for entry.
The Director said he had written to the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), affiliated to the Union Ministry of Heavy Industries, and obtained a clarification through e-mail on November 16 that kneeling system/lift mechanism was not mandatory for the buses with a floor height of 650 mm.
He also pointed out that as per the agreement signed by the State government with the German development bank KfW, the funding agency, only 20% of the buses should be low-floor for improving accessibility to the differently abled, elderly, children and women and that the government was adhering to the clause.
Arguing that low-floor buses could be introduced only in phases, he said the government had planned to purchase 100 electric buses next month and all those buses would be low-floor. Referring to the lift mechanism implemented on a pilot basis in 10 city buses a few years ago, he said the petitioner herself had admitted that it was an unworkable system.
The Director also said the petition had been filed for publicity and public interest would suffer if the tender process was stalled.