4 years ago on this day a historic decision was delivered by High Court of Delhi. Prior to that, even after 66 years of Independence, people with disabilities had no right to book railway tickets through internet. Ironically this facility was available to both non-disabled and elderly citizens. This prompted Mr Praveen Kumar G, a person with visual disability, to file a Public Interest Litigation through Advocate Mr. Pankaj Sinha, a lawyer with visual disability, alleging discrimination between disabled persons and senior citizens in the Policy of IRCTC which provides facilities and services for issuing the railway ticket on internet, or at the reservation counters. Vide Praveen Kumar G vs Union of India & Ors. in the HC of Delhi W.P.(C) 2145 of 2011, Hon’ble Court directed the Railway Board, Ministry of Railway, to start this facility for citizens with disability. The judgement is available at this link.
This was the genesis of Railway Photo Identity Card. Let me tell you that this card is different from ‘Railway Concession certificate’ which is based on verification of ‘Disability certificate’. However, one cannot book a ticket online through the latter hence the whole PIL. For easy explanation, I shall be using ‘E-concession card’ for ‘Railway Photo ID Card’ in this post.
The Railway Board vide its Commercial Circular No. 18 of 2015 detailed the whole scheme to all zonal railways for effective implementation through its letter dated 19 March 2015. The letter is uploaded here.
Steps for issuance of ‘E-concession card’ (Railway Photo ID Card)
1. A person with disability entitled for railway concession has to approach Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) Office along with Railway Concession certificate, Photo ID proof, Date of Birth proof, Address proof and 2 passport size photos (in person or by post) along with a set of attested photocopies. Letter should be addressed to Senior Divisional Commercial Manager (Sr DCM).
2. Commercial Inspector of the DRM office will in turn verify the documents from where the Railway Concession certificate was issued.
3. After verification E-concession card will be issued and the applicant will be informed telephonically to collect the card. The applicant with disability or his/her representative can collect the card after showing original certificates
So far, so good. However, to get this actually is a big hurdle. Since the launch of this facility, there has been lot of complaints of harassment of disabled persons by the Concession Cell of DRM Office, Delhi. I am a person with locomotor disability and I already have my disability certificate and railway concession certificate. I finally decided to test it on my own and applied for E-concession card on 30th May 2016. The DRM office on the State Entry Road (near Connaught Place) has a smashing ramp but the Concession Cell of the DRM office has a broken ramp completely unfit and risky for a wheelchair user and those wearing orthosis. When you enter inside, another broken bench will gather your attention. Anyways, I submitted my documents and the official said that I have to submit disability certificate as well. Infact, they have pasted a paper showing documents required on the glass window. I said nothing of this sort is mentioned in original Commercial Circular No. 18 (CC 18) of 2015. I showed him the pdf on my mobile. Looking at it for some time, he agreed and issued me a receiving. I tweeted about the unsafe ramp to Railway Minister and DRM. After some time, I asked one of my friend (another doctor with disability) about his card. He said he submitted a year ago on 12 June 2015 but still there has been no response. He also tweeted to the honourable mentions above. I further came to know about similar delays elsewhere.
We complained on twitter but the messages keeps getting forwarded from one twitter handle to another without any assistance. The public mobile number of Concession Cell (9717649957) remained switched off on three consecutive days despite complaint to Sr DCM. The other number provided by his office (011-42622054) could not be contacted.
In the mean time, CNN News18 highlighted my complaint of inaccessible ramp at Concession Cell of DRM office on it show Citizen Journalist. The recording is available on YouTube at the following link between 7.50 min to 9.20 min : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCPHyuYp-80
So finally, I wrote a long email to Railway Minster, with copy to Executive Director (Public Grievances) and DRM. I also mentioned that CC 18 states clearly that ‘the total process till the issuance of card should be completed within reasonable time from the date of receipt of application.’ I gave example of my friend Dr Nirad Yadav who applied 14 months ago. I also mentioned that Concession Cell is unnecessary asking for disability certificate and thereby harassing those who are following Railway Circular and about the broken ramp.
The very next day, I got call from Concession Cell that mine and Dr Yadav’s cards are ready and we can collect them.
Both of us went to the Concession Cell on 9th September 2016. After reaching there, we came to know that we have to take a token. There was a huge rush but we waited and took tokens. The process was painstakingly slow so after an hour I called on the number which invited us. . I called the number which had given us a call the other day. The gentleman was sitting in front of the counter and rudely said ‘wait for your turn’. The public mobile number 9717649957 was still switched off on 4th successive day.
Anyways, rather than arguing we went outside at Connaught Place to get the needful done. My friend got his card and I told him to rush to his hospital since it took us much longer than what we had anticipated. It was my turn came now. The official said that I have not provided the disability certificate. I replied in affirmative and said why do you need it when based on the same certificate, Railways have issued me Railways Concession Certificate. To this he said they won’t be able to issue me the card then. I said that I have submitted all the documents which are required as per the Railway Circular. I told him to write on my application why the card cannot be issued. He was taken aback. He said, Sir you are doctor, things will be delayed. I said you only called me after I wrote to your bosses and I will only furnish those documents which are mentioned in the circular. His fingers were trembling as he did not want to give anything in writing. His nearby fellow coaxed him to reject. He went inside to consult seniors.
It was 12.30 pm. The mob was building with people from far off places like Faridabad and Ghaziabad standing on their crutches because of limited seating arrangements. I chatted with the people around. Few of them were waiting since more than a year. I took photos of their application (Mr Pramod Kumar, Mr Nagender Narayan) & started tweeting to the Railway Minister and DRM I uploaded pictures of the broken bench as well as the inaccessible ramp too. It was 1 pm with official lunch hour in progress. Few minutes later, twitter handle of Sr DCM tweeted back and about my mobile number. I showed it to the official sitting inside and he asked how many days old is this tweet? The animated crowd behind said in unison '1 min back'. Few phone calls came and whole staff vanished from the Concession Cell. At around 1.45 pm, their senior official came with the copy of circular in his hand. I said you are harassing us by asking irrelevant documents. He apologized and said, 'Sir, you are right. Mistake is from top. They ignored the fact that computerized certification needs disability certificate number. He took notice of the ramp too and listened to the other people who were getting impatient by now. His junior collected names of all of us and in the next minute, I got my card. Two others received their cards as well. I was told not to get it laminated since it has to be renewed after 5 years. This is in stark contrast to what it’s written in the guidelines. The circular states that we should get it laminated as per point number 9.
Later in the day, I got a call from another of my dentist friend with disability that he has been asked to collect his card as well. He got it on the next working day.
There are more questions than answers in this whole saga. Why the Railways are hell bent on doing the CBI inquiry of our railway concession card? It is issued only on the basis of our disability certificate which is in turn given by a Government medical board. Do the Railways question the integrity of Government doctors?
Why they need multiple certificates? Why the old Railway Concession certificate is not valid now consideing the new process of issuance taking 6 months to an year? Moreover, The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment will be shortly releasing universal identity card for people with disabilities which will be a single card to avail all government benefits. With this in sight, why the Railways wants to engage its already under-staffed DRM office to do a Sherlock Holmes on our railway concession cards?
Is it so difficult for Mr Prabhu to speak to Mr Gehlot and find a workable solution?
I began this post by mentioning about the PIL filed by people with disabilities. I end this post by emphasizing that all policy, guidelines for people with disabilities will be futile until and unless we the disabled people are involved in the decisions.