Safeguarding the interests of weaker sections of society, including the handicapped and mentally retarded is a constitutional duty and responsibility of the Municipal Corporation has been pronounced by the Kerala High Court in case of the Dr. P.A. Mary Anitha vs Corporation of Kochi, Ernakulam, and ors., WP(C). No.24850 OF 2018(S) in the bench comprising of Justice S.Manikumar and Justice Shaji P.Chaly.
In the present case, Public Interest Litigation was filed by the Chairperson of an NGO namely Centre for Empowerment and Enrichment (CEFEE). According to the petitioner, she volunteers and aims primarily to enable differently-abled children to come up to the limelight of society and to live in dignity in the society. The case projected by the petitioner is that the Corporation of Kochi, as well as the Public Works Department and their Nodal Agencies, have the duty and the responsibility to ensure that the differently-abled people are able to enjoy their rights to walk freely and fearlessly within the limits of Kochi city by providing safe and hindrance free footpaths to access the roads and they have failed in fulfilling it.
It is also submitted that Section 346 of the Kerala Municipality Act, 1994 casts duty on the first respondent Corporation to make the public streets and bridges vested in it and under the control of it to be maintained and repaired at the cost of the municipal fund and to meet the cost of all improvements to the same, which are necessary or expedient for the public safety or convenience. The Court also pointed out that under Section 207 and Section 208 and Section 346 of the Act, 1994 all public roads, streets, lanes and bridges other than National Highway, State Highway or major district road or roads classified by Government as such vest in the Municipality together with all pavements, stones and other materials and other things and duty of the Municipality to provide at the cost of the municipal fund, to such extend as the Government may, by general or special order to maintain the streets.
The Court held that there is a constitutional obligation along with the statutory obligation and held as:
“ We are of the considered opinion that the cause put forth by the petitioner are genuine and bona fide in nature so as to protect the interests of the differently-abled persons, and we have no hesitation to hold that differently-abled people like any other citizens are entitled to enjoy the fruits of life and liberty guaranteed under article 21 of the constitution of India. That apart, the State also has a duty as per the directive principles of state policy under Part 1V of the Constitution. Further, after the introduction of Part 1XA to the Constitution of India, Under Section 243W dealing with Municipalities, the Municipalities are liable to discharge such functions entrusted with them thereunder.”
Thus, Supreme Court held that we have no hesitation to hold that the Corporation of Kochi, as well as the Public Works Department, are duty-bound under the law to make necessary arrangements in the footpaths and the road so as to enable differently-abled persons to access the roads and the footpaths to their convenience.