Disabled Kargil veteran takes to social media to report NHAI harassment, finds widespread support
When a Kargil War veteran and reputed blade runner can be made to run around for his rightful due, what chance do ordinary people with disabilities have? Major D P Singh has been unable to get a FASTag for his vehicle despite possessing the valid documents. His harassment has drawn widespread support on social media. That’s the focus on #StoryOfTheWeek.
“If you are a physically challenged person with a vehicle registered under the ‘Invalid Carriage’ or ‘Retrofitted’ category, then you are eligible for free FASTag”.
The rulebook may say that, but Major D P Singh’s experience says something else altogether. The Kargil War veteran and reputed blade runner has taken to social media to document the prolonged harassment he is facing due to the apathy and insensitivity of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).
The reactions to his experience show this is not an isolated instance.
FASTag cards are issued to vehicle owners with disabilities to relieve them of having to verify their disability status at toll plazas. It also exempts them from paying toll tax on all NHAI-operated highways.
Major Singh was disabled in the right leg in 1999 during the Kargil War. He purchased a vehicle from Mahindra Auto after following a lengthy process of documentation.
What should be a moment of empowerment for a person with disability ends up reduced to the opposite given the extensive paperwork involving the government, automobile company, dealers, medical authorities and RTOs.
Getting the vehicle was just the beginning. The next step was the RTO registration. Adapted vehicles are not commonly registered, and the RTO Major Singh went to was not fully aware and it took some time to get the benefits of road tax exemption. “But there was no facility available to print or endorse the vehicle category on the RC Book”, says Major Singh. So, a handwritten endorsement was given with details of the vehicle and taxes paid.
Based on these documents, Major Singh was able to get a FASTag under special category from Axis Bank in 2017. In early 2020, he was asked for the documents yet again by the NHAI. This time he found himself removed from the exempted list.
I was clueless about where and what to do. On tolls, at FASTag issuing counters, I would get blank looks when I asked about Invalid Carriage/Adapted Vehicle. The exempted category is full of VIPs. Only PwDs are the odd ones out when the facility is to ease out their mobility issues. In reality, a person with disability is clueless about how to get the benefit. He is harassed, leading to aggravation of pain and mental harassment. – Major D P Singh, Disabled war veteran
Major Singh is still running around between numerous NHAI offices hoping for a hearing. After many Twitter posts, he got some attention from the NHAI.
“A person was kind enough to hear my case, only to raise a doubt on the handwritten endorsement of the vehicle”, says Major Singh. “He made a direct hit on my disability and authenticity of the adapted vehicle. Like a football, I was passed on from one person to another”.
His words have evoked strong reactions. Among those to support him is former Indian Army Chief Ved Malik who tweeted, “What a shame! Nitin Gadkari ji, please make the process easier for war wounded soldiers”.
Others have called for strong action against NHAI officials.
It’s not just for himself that Major Singh is fighting. The experience, he says, raise questions about the entire process.
- Why should a person with disability carry the burden if the RTO infrastructure is not equipped to print the RC Book correctly?
- When will RTOs and other road transport authorities become aware about adapted vehicles and facilities extended to people with disabilities?
- Why should a vehicle be made invalid/adaptive to be registered under the special category when vehicles have become easier to drive over the years?
- When people with disabilities can drive regular cars, why put them through the harassment of getting a vehicle modified?
- Why cannot the FASTag be issued to all persons who are disabled, irrespective of whether the vehicle is registered in their name?
“Not all have the money to purchase a vehicle only for persons with disabilities”, points out Major Singh. The rule says adapted vehicles can only be driven by the disabled person and the FASTag is for the vehicle not for the disabled person driving it.
Given his access to social media and reputation, Major Singh has been able to draw attention and there are strong chances that he will be heard. But imagine what a large number of disabled people from small towns with no access to social media or visibility must be going through.
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