Affordable and Independent Mobility for Persons with Disabilities in India – Challenges & Way Forward (series 3 of 3)
-By Subhash Chandra Vashishth
This article has been presented in 3 series. In the first series of this three-part article on private vehicles for persons with disabilities, you read about the GST waiver and why it must be extended to all disabilities instead of just orthopaedic, and why two-wheelers should also be included in the GST concession list. The second series, focussed on the lack of accessible vehicles in India and challenges with modified vehicles.
In this third and the final series, the focus is on why people have to depend on the import of accessible cars with over 100 percent import duty, in absence of any accessible model in local market. The article also suggests making it mandatory for car brands to produce and sell accessible models in India which can also bring economic benefits to all stakeholders.
According to an industry intelligence report by Fact.MR titled “Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Market Forecast, Trend Analysis & Competition Tracking – Global Market insights 2018 to 2028” the wheelchair-accessible vehicle market is projected to expand at a steady pace and its growing demand is expected to translate into sales crossing US$ 6 billion by end of the period of assessment (2028).
However, conspicuous dearth of disabled-friendly vehicles in Indian automobile market force persons with disabilities to go for either retrofitting of existing models of vehicles or consider importing a car at full duty, if they could afford. Needless to say that retrofitting has been an exercise that is time-consuming, frustrating, expensive, unsafe and sometimes against the law as well.
Exorbitant import duty in importing accessible vehicles
No auto manufacturer produces accessible cars in India as of today and people with disabilities continue to suffer due to lack of mobility choices. In this scenario, the only option is to import good quality accessible cars from abroad. However, while attempting to do so, I learnt that there is up to 205 percent duty on import of vehicles (below 10 seaters) and up to 73 percent duty (above 10 seaters). This applies to all accessible or disabled-friendly cars even when called for personal use.
The mobility options for people with disabilities are treated and taxed as “luxury items” whereas an accessible vehicle is a ‘necessity’ for mobility of persons with disabilities, enabling them to not only make their lives easier, safer and dignified in traveling from one point to other, but also economically productive.
NGOs and user-groups have been demanding complete exemption from import duty, excise duty and other miscellaneous charges levied on the import of accessible cars as well as mobility devices, assistive technologies, irrespective of their cost brackets, meant for use by the persons with disabilities. This would not cause any major loss to the government as the number of such applicants would be very small. To check any misuse, the government may link this exemption with Aadhaar and a data could be maintained by the concerned departments in the manner it is maintained by Department of Heavy Industries for permitting GST concessions to persons with disabilities on purchase of cars in India.
The lives of persons with disabilities are already full of daily struggles due to inaccessible environment, attitudinal biases and lack of accessible mobility options. Imposition of taxes and duties put enormous financial pressure on them while buying assistive devices and mobility equipment to perform their daily chores. The fundamental fact is that they have to use such equipment because they must; it is not by choice, but by necessity.
Enablers like zero import duty will not only make the hi-end assistive technologies, products and mobility options affordable to many people with disabilities and make their lives easier, safe and dignified, but it will also open up a new market for such products in India and many businesses will be attracted to invest in manufacturing such products here in the country.
It is imperative that not only vehicles but all mobility equipment, assistive technologies and devices meant to improve lives of persons with disabilities are removed from ‘luxury’ segment to put in ‘zero rated list’.
Make Accessible Model Mandatory
Chapter VIII, Section 43 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016, says, “The appropriate Government shall take measures to promote development, production and distribution of universally designed consumer products and accessories for general use for persons with disabilities.”
Since the needs of users are so diverse, the accessibility in vehicles will have to be addressed from two perspectives:
- First, one that enables a disabled driver to drive the vehicle by himself with necessary adaptations made (such as hand or foot controlled vehicle, added wheels for balance, adaptations to store the wheelchair or assistive devices, raising the roof or lowering the floor to accommodate the driver etc.).
- Second, a vehicle that is designed to be usable by a non-driving person with disability (such as a wheelchair user or a senior person with mobility difficulties) by providing enhanced headroom, lowered vehicle floor, raised windows to accommodate viewing by a wheelchair user or a tall person, automated retracting out/in seat for seniors, additional handles for stability and support, provisions of manual or automatic ramp /hydraulic lift to get in and out of vehicle with dignity, wheelchair docking and restraining /locking mechanisms etc.).
To fulfil the mandate of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016 and end discrimination, the government needs to make it mandatory for all car manufacturers selling their models in India to produce for sale ‘disabled-friendly / wheelchair friendly’ version of at least 50% of their models. To meet the needs of people with disabilities who self-drive with adaptation, the auto manufacturers could work on the concept of company fitted modular modification kits for each model of vehicle. Further, the government could provide subsidies and tax incentives to brands coming up with wheelchair accessible cars. The car manufacturers should work on research and development (R&D) involving user groups and accessibility experts and compete for the better disabled-friendly versions or in other words ‘universally accessible cars’ as it would add to the brand value.
Accessible Models bring benefits for users as well as manufacturers
1) Availability of a mandatory company fitted ‘modular modification kit’ for each model of vehicle will help diversity of users with disabilities to use the vehicles with ease & safety and any vehicle could be made disabled friendly without disturbing its frame, crash testing values or simply its essential safety features.
2) There is no threat to the warranty of the vehicle as the manufacturer is providing adaptation in vehicle and the same is also reflected in the Registration Certificate.
3) It will allow buyers to avail excise duty concession provided by the Govt. on more vehicle models and will be cost effective to the buyer as no modification is required.
4) Safer & more comfortable vehicles with provision of after-sale service including availability of disabled friendly kits and spare parts.
5) Customers can avail of registration exemption, insurance concession and road tax exemption with ease.
6) Easier to get a driving license for the disabled drivers and promote independent mobility of persons with disabilities.
7) Creation of niche markets for car manufacturers & value addition for being an ‘inclusive brand’.
8) The accessible cars could also be branded as “Complete Family Car” to include needs of elders, patients, disabled members and children.
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