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A combination of measures by the government would make travel easy for the disabled riders. —
CHENNAI: Heading out of his home on a bike in East Tambaram at 8.30 a.m. every day, R. Ganesh gives himself ample time to reach his workplace, which is 40 km away in Padappai. Similarities between him and those who commute long distance to work ends there. Mr.Ganesh is a polio-affected person and he is 60 per cent disabled.
Because his bike has been modified to enable him to shift gear using his hand and has a set of clamps to hold his crutches, the vehicle is considered ‘unsafe' by the government. He does not have a valid vehicle registration certificate, or insurance, or any kind of accident coverage.
The root of the problem is a question about the legality of retro-fitting motor vehicles. The government's position is that it must be done only by authorised dealers who can ensure safety. However, disability rights groups say that the government has not identified even one authorised dealer and has essentially made it illegal for the differently-abled to drive a vehicle.
Mr. Ganesh says that he drives a bike only because he will have to board three different buses en route and deal with inaccessibility at every step to make the same journey by public transport. “I am an illegal rider. I cannot even claim insurance in case of an accident. Under law, people like me are punishable for riding a bike. We are kept in this state by the government,” he adds.
The issue dates back to the year 2000 when the Central government amended Section 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act imposing a ban on the registration of altered vehicles.
The Transport Department entertained requests for vehicle registration from differently-abled persons on humanitarian grounds till June 2008. They were registered under the category ‘Invalid carriage'. It has been a perpetual fight between legality and rights from then.
In an effort to end the impasse, the Department recently issued a government order which allowed TVS Motors Ltd to set up 103 centres across the State for retro-fitting some of its models. But this does not help the majority of differently-abled who usually buy a second-hand vehicle.
Javed Abidi, convenor of the Disability Rights Group, says that the basic problem is that manufacturers are not producing a disabled-friendly variant of at least some of their models. “This is mandated by law in countries such as the U.S., South Africa and Australia. The same manufacturers do not produce vehicles conducive to the disabled in India,” he says.
Transport Commissioner M. Rajaram said that the concerns raised by the differently-abled were genuine and a solution would be reached soon.
“As per the CMVR, the retro-fitment kit manufacturer need not be a vehicle manufacturer. We have identified agencies that manufacture kits alone. Soon, dealers supplying kits for various types of vehicles would be given licences to operate,” he said.
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