All Is Not Well With The Indian Railways, At Least For the Differently-Abled

Martand Jha

For the past few weeks we have been hearing how our Railway Minister is engaging with people on Twitter and solving their problems immediately. Many media houses have went on to report about the ‘good governance’ of Indian Railways under the current leadership of M J Prabhu (Railway Minister) which is then linked with the our Prime Minister, who has called ‘differently-abled’ people as ‘Divyang’. Everything appears to be perfect or at least on track.

Well, the truth is that differently-abled people don’t feel that ‘all is well’ for them when it comes to ‘good governance’ of Railway Ministry and they have a very genuine reason to feel so. Differently-abled people are given concessions on tickets from 25% of the ticket fare to 75%, depending on the class and the train in which a differently abled person wants to travel. For e.g 75% concession on the ticket fare is given for ‘Sleeper Class’ and ‘3AC’ in express trains while 50% concession on the ticket fare is given for ‘1AC’ and ‘2AC’ , only 25% concession is given in Rajdhani and Shatabdi Trains.

The same amount of concession is also provided to a person who ‘escorts’ a differently abled person in his/her journey. This is an incentive provided by the government to help the differently abled population during their train journeys. To avail this concession in the train journeys, differently abled people need to have their ‘disability certificate’ certified by a panel of doctors from a government hospital and is given to only those with more than 40% disability, as per government rules.

Once ‘disability certificate’ is made, which in itself is a sort of achievement considering the attitude of the system towards the differently abled people, they are eligible to get a ‘Railway Concession Card’ from the same hospital. After showing this card on a railway ticket counter differently abled people could get their train reservation done with concession.

This system continued till February this year when the Ministry of Railway decided to ‘empower’ the differently abled citizens by introducing an E-concession card through which a ‘differently-abled’ person could now get his/her tickets done through online via IRCTC, which was not an option earlier as one had to go to railway ticket counter to get a ticket.

Everyone applauded this decision taken by the Railway Ministry. People suffering with various disabilities thought that life would be easier now as they don’t have to strain themselves of going to a reservation counter or ask someone to get their tickets done on their behalf. Well, atleast I thought the same considering that I am suffering from an orthopaedic disability.

The process to get an ‘E-concession card’ appeared simple at first. One had to write an application and submit it along with the photocopy of his/her Railway Concession Card at a designated centre for this task by Indian Railways. In my case, this place happened to be at ‘State Entry Road’ near New Delhi Railway Station. The problem began to start now. Once I was done with the process of applying for this card, I was told that I would get a call from the authorities there when my card was made. This was on 21st May, 2015.

Now, the process of endless wait for a call from Railway authorities started. As expected, I didn’t get a call. I went after waiting for four months, i.e. in September to inquire about it. I was ‘politely’ told to go away at first, as my card was still not made after four months and the reason given was that there were many people in the queue ahead of me who applied for the card before me who had also not received their cards so by logic I should understand and go back to my home and wait for their call.

When I further inquired about it with other differently abled, most of whom were ‘poor’ and ‘illiterate’, were facing the same problem and didn’t had the clue of what to do. All of them were feeling harassed by the authorities. When I started asking pin pointed questions about the delay in getting my card, I was told that maybe the hospital in which my disability certificate was made had not verified my name under ‘Physically Handicapped’ category and sent it to them and that’s why this delay was happening and therefore I was advised to go to the hospital where my disability certificate was made and ask them about it instead of ‘eating the heads’ of railway officials.
I was then sent to commercial department under Ministry of Railway to check when did the ministry sent my name to get verification from the hospital from where I got my disability certificate. There, I saw that my name was sent for verification on 12th August, 2015 i.e nearly 3 months after I submitted my application. Here the reason for delay here was given that the volume of applications by differently abled people was huge and the railway department is ‘under-staffed’ for this task.

Finally, I was given a mobile number where I could call for any further queries. I came back home and again three more months passed and I didn’t receive any call. I didn’t call on the mobile no as I was told many differently abled people that nobody picks up when they call on this number. So, two weeks ago I again decided to go and ask about my E-concession card. As soon as I went and asked, I was told in an angry tone that my card was not made and that I should wait for their call. The lady official at the counter asked me to go away and said I was ‘impatient’ and that E-concession cards takes time to be made.

I wondered that after a wait of 7 months, whether it was me who was impatient or is it the system which is lethargic. In front of the lady official, a pile of concession cards was laid out and without even checking my card in that pile, I was asked to leave. This time, I was adamant and asked the official to check in the pile of cards whether mine was there in it or not.

After getting irritated, the official complied to my request and indeed found that my card was infact lying there in front of her desk. When I asked why was I misinformed earlier, I was asked immediately another official to just be content with getting my card and go away.

Though I got my card, but I felt harassed by the railway officials. I was surprised to see that the ‘date of issue’ of my card has been written as 20th August, 2015. This means that for four months I was kept in dark about my card and officials misinformed me even in September when I first went to inquire about this issue. Secondly, when I tried to book my ticket online using my card, the IRCTC website couldn’t verify my ‘unique code no’ of the card and I had to go to a ticket counter as earlier to get my reservation done, thereby making the whole process of getting the card futile.

This is not just my story. Because, I am educated and financially okay, I was vigilant about this issue. But most of the differently abled people in India are illiterate and poor adding to their problems, as a result they are still suffering at the hands of the system. I tweeted to our Railway Minister about this issue after some friends told me that he has been taking immediate actions after receiving complaints. I didn’t receive any reply but I heard that our minister did reply to a girl who was harassed on a train and immediate steps were taken. People like me are also being ‘harassed’ but there is no one to hear our woes.

Is this because the government doesn’t consider the differently abled population as a vote-bank and as a group we are politically insignificant for them? This question is not just related to this particular issue. It shows how our society treats its differently abled population which is reflected in various aspects of our lives and issues like these. The whole idea of ‘good governance’ appears as a sham if it doesn’t reach to the most marginalized, poor and illiterate population of our country and the differently abled population has been historically marginalized in our country and society. The government must respond by showing that it is indeed ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ and not just for the rich and dominant people.

In the recent railway budget, the Railway minister announced ‘differently-abled’ friendly toilets and provision for cleaner toilets for differently abled both inside the trains and at the stations have been promised. All these steps are welcome but the larger problems still remain unanswered. I hope government of the day would be more ‘inclusive’ in its approach while dealing with differently-abled people of the country.