Rail concession yet to be sanctioned despite representations
For one-and-a-half years, armed with her disability ID card, Tamil Selvi, a Dalit woman from Dharmapuri, has been struggling to get rail travel concession.
Despite help from various quarters, including secretaries of two government departments, her claim lies tangled in bureaucratic interpretations of the ‘nature of disability’.
Tamil Selvi’s left leg was crippled by polio and she cannot walk unless she wears callipers. She has a disability certificate issued by the Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Persons Welfare Board. Her picture in the card has her displaying the bad leg, calliper and all. And yet, her battle rages on, particularly with a senior doctor of Dharmapuri Government Hospital, reducing her to tears as the establishment remains unrelenting and humiliating at the same time.
“I am an LIC agent, I travel often on work to nearby areas. Going by bus is very uncomfortable because of the calliper. A train is very convenient, that is why I decided to approach the hospital to sign on forms for railway concession,” she says. However, she claims the doctor is determined to refuse her the card, since she refused to pay the bribe of Rs. 2,000 the first time she approached him.
Tamil Selvi says she was told that the concession could be given only to those without both legs, while she was capable of walking with her callipers. Also, the concession is meant to be given to a disabled person and one attendant who will assist him or her, but she did not require assistance.
This twisted logic goes directly against the Persons with Disabilities Act and the State regulations that “the holder of the identity card for persons with disabilities is eligible to claim concessions/benefits provided by the Central Government, State Government, and other local authorities in accordance with the Act/Rules/Instructions issued by these authorities from time to time.” The Railways provides travel concessions for the disabled.
Members of the local disability federation who took up Tamil Selvi’s case were reportedly assaulted at the hospital for taking up her case, she charges. “The PWD Act provides concessions only to benefit disabled persons. Here, you see an instance of how an individual sabotages the principle by claiming to interpret them, in a manner that is clearly disabled-unfriendly,” S.Namburajan, of the Tamil Nadu Association for the Rights of All types of Differently Abled and Caregivers (TARATDAC), added.
“It is appalling, especially in a State where the government has authorised even doctors at Primary Health Centres to issue disability certificates to make it easy for the disabled persons,” he adds.
The issue was taken up at a meeting of the departments of Health and Disability, he said, and assurances were then provided that it would be resolved as soon as possible. Earlier, Tamil Selvi says she had also represented to the Collector of Dharmapuri for redress. Officials of the Differently Abled Welfare Department, when contacted, said the requisite permissions would be granted after taking up her case specifically. The Railways has clarified that it was a matter of interpretation of policy and a decision would be taken soon.
Though authorities, at the highest level, have been sympathetic to her cause, the railway concession continues to elude this Dalit woman abandoned by her husband and who is bringing up two children all by herself. “At the hospital, I even showed them how I had to crawl without the support of my callipers. They asked me to come to a special camp, and back again to the hospital. I’ve been sent here and there and treated like a dog,” she says, breaking down.
Health Department officials said that apart from pursuing this particular case, they are planning to issue a clarification that the rules should be interpreted in favour of the challenged person. They also intend to take the matter up with the Railways, to ensure that ambiguity is avoided. “The aim is to ensure that people with disabilities do not suffer because of varying interpretations of the rules by doctors,” an official said.