Delhi High Court| Non-provision of accessibility features constitutes an offence under Right of Persons with Disabilities Act

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: Four petitions were filed by petitioners, who are consumers of audio-visual entertainment, have filed the present petition, highlighting the challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing audio-visual content both in traditional theatres and online streaming platforms. Prathiba M Singh, J., held that non-provision of accessibility features would, in fact, constitute an offence under RPWD Act as it was enacted in 2016 and almost eight years have passed since then. The Court further passed directions considering the current position wherein the producers and technology providers need to co-ordinate with each other and the MIB has also sought further time to notify the guidelines.

The petition was filed seeking directions against the Yash Raj Films (Respondent 1) which is the producer of the film ‘Pathaan’, the two Ministries i.e., Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (‘MIB’) (respondent 2) and Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Respondent No. 3), as also, Amazon Seller Services Private Limited (Respondent 4), which operates an Over-The-Top (hereinafter, ‘OTT’) platform namely, Amazon Prime Video seeking seek enforcement of various rights and accessibility requirements, as prescribed under the provisions of the RPWD Act. The case of the Petitioners is that, though various rights have been recognized for ‘persons with disabilities’ under the RPWD Act, most films which are released in India are not catering to disabled persons, despite the said RPWD Act, having been enacted more than 5-6 years ago.

The impetus for filing the case stemmed from the persistent failure to implement accessibility features in films, despite previous directives from the MIB. The stakeholders, including disability rights organizations and concerned individuals, advocated for the inclusion of subtitles, audio descriptions, and other accommodations to facilitate equal access to cinematic content for persons with disabilities. Being frustrated by the lack of action, a petition was filed seeking judicial intervention to enforce existing guidelines and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities were upheld in the realm of entertainment.

The petitioners highlighted the importance of accessibility features in promoting inclusivity and argued for swift enforcement of existing guidelines. They emphasized the legal obligation of producers and distributors to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. The respondents, including the MIB and industry representatives, provided updates on efforts to draft and finalize accessibility guidelines, citing challenges and progress made in stakeholder consultations.

The Court acknowledged the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to access cultural and entertainment venues on an equal basis with others. The court emphasized the constitutional imperative to provide reasonable accommodation and ensure the dignity and autonomy of persons with disabilities. It noted the positive obligations of both the state and private entities to create an inclusive environment, including in the entertainment sector.

The Court remarked that “the present writ petition was initially filed only in respect of the feature film ‘Pathan’. However, considering the stand of the MIB which vide its circular dated 01-10-2019 had made it clear that such features should be incorporated and bearing the broader relief sought in the writ petition, various directions have been passed to find comprehensive solution. One of the reliefs prayed in this writ petition also includes a prayer for notification of standard for accessibility for captioning, sub-titling and audio description. The Draft Guidelines have now been published by the MIB. The stakeholders’ comments have also been given to the MIB.”

The Court further remarked that “A hearing or visually impaired person, may get easy physical access to a film theatre but may not be able to enjoy the film at all, if measures to make it enjoyable are not taken by the other stakeholders, including producers, theatre managers, OTT platforms, etc. The State has a positive obligation to ensure that all steps, that are reasonably possible, are taken in this direction.”

The Court held that the failure to implement accessibility features in films constituted a violation of the rights of persons with disabilities under the Constitution and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016. It directed the MIB to finalize and notify accessibility guidelines for films, making provisions mandatory and providing a reasonable compliance period. The Court mandated the designation of a specific officer to handle representations for accessibility features and ordered timely responses to such requests.

The Court issued following directions

i. The guidelines shall now be finalised by the MIB and shall be notified on or before 15-07-2024. It is made clear that the said guidelines shall make the provision of accessibility features mandatory and provide a reasonable period for compliance by all stakeholders, in an expeditious manner.

ii. In the meantime, insofar as any representations which are received by the MIB for inclusion of accessibility features in films are concerned, one Under Secretary from the MIB shall be nominated as the designated officer for receipt of such representations. The representations if received, shall be responded to within three working days and attempt shall be made that even in the interregnum, while the Guidelines are to be notified, that such features are included in features films, including on OTT platforms. The contact details of the said Under Secretary shall be published on the website by 10-04-2024, by the MIB.

[Akshat Baldwa v. Yash Raj Films, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 2125, decided on 15-03-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. Rahul Bajaj and Ms. Mahoor Ghani, Advocates for petitioners

Mr. Abhishek Malhotra and Ms. Srishti Gupta, Advocates for R-1

Mr. Ravi Prakash, CGSC with Ms. Astu Khandelwal, Mr. Farman Ali, Mr. Taha Yasin, Mr. Yasharth and Ms. Usha Jamnal, Advocates for R-2 and 3.

Mr. Devvrat Joshi and Mr. Angad S Makkar, Advs. for R-4

Mr. Nitin Sharma, Mr. Kuber Mahajan and Ms. Deepika Pokharia, Advocates for R-5.

Mr. Pranav Sarthi and Ms. Ayushi Chaurasia, Advocates for R-6.

Must Watch

maintenance to second wife

bail in false pretext of marriage

right to procreate of convict

Criminology, Penology and Victimology book release

Join the discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.