Mumbai: Man with cerebral palsy battles illness and red tape to secure driving licence
After buying a new scooter and sidecar and making several rounds to RTO offices in Mumbai, 21-year-old Pushkar Gulgule finally secures learner's licence
Pushkar Gulgule, 21, could not contain his excitement as he showed off his brand new learner's licence — the result of two years of struggle. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth, Pushkar had never felt any different from his peers in college. But that changed in 2016, when he applied for a driving licence. Instead of helping him to achieve his dream of independence, officials were rude and dismissive.
Being able to ride his scooter to college is an important step in independence for Pushkar. Like many 18-year-olds, he applied for a driving licence (DL). But the officer at the Andheri Regional Transport Office (RTO) was scathing in his rejection of the application. "When we went to apply for a licence, the RTO official said, 'Why are you leaving him to die?'" recalled Pushkar's father, Vinayak, as his hands trembled. "I was shocked, but we did not give up."
Parth Hendre and his father
They fared slightly better at the Dahisar RTO. "He used to ride my scooter, which had a sidecar. We thought we should get him a similar vehicle, as he could keep his bags and crutches in the sidecar," said his mother, Nutan, who runs an NGO for specially-abled individuals.
Pushkar passed all the driving tests, but the RTO officials told the Gulgules that they would have to purchase the scooter and sidecar before the licence could be issued. The family was short on funds at the time, and the authorities refused to issue a licence on the basis of Nutan's scooter, so they went home empty-handed yet again.
During Dussehra 2017, they bought the scooter and a sidecar, and finally in January, approached the RTO again. "We filed the paperwork and paid the charges. But then the staff told us there was no provision for a side car and asked us to follow up in a month," said Vinayak.
Fourth time's the charm
"After a couple of follow-ups, an official told me that they had written to the authorities in New Delhi. After making a few more trips to the RTO, I decided to approach the Andheri RTO chief, Abhay Deshpande. He finally sorted out the entire matter within a day," the father added. "Finally!" exclaimed Pushkar, as he waved his laminated learner's licence, which he received just last week. The 21-year-old just received his BMS results on Saturday, and is excited about riding to university, where he intends to apply for an MCom course. The family is relieved that they won the battle, but has called for greater awareness and cooperation among RTO staff for the right procedure to follow with disabled individuals.
Friends in the same boat
It was a similar story with Pushkar's friend, Parth Hendre, 32, who had applied for a learner's licence in April last year. Hendre suffers from spina bifida with hydrocephalus since birth, but his father, retired banker Kishore Hendre, was unaware that they had to register for an 'invalid carriage' — an option that allows applicants to select sidecars or extra wheels. "We were not aware of the procedure. We went to the RTO three to four times, before we finally got the work done through an agent," says his father, adding, "The officials themselves seemed confused about the procedure."
Parth got his learner's permit three months later but faced a delay yet again when he applied for his DL, eventually receiving it on February 28. What's more shocking is that Pushkar and Parth are the lucky ones; their pals are yet to get permits. Ramesh Sartape, a 34-year-old polio patient, said, "All my paperwork was complete in 2016, but they did not give me a NOC for the vehicle because I had got in on loan."
Discouraged, he has since been riding his bike without a DL, just like his buddies Rahul Ramugade and Sandesh Gaikwad. "99% of the times, we don't get caught. But it happened to me once, and I just settled the matter by paying cash," said Rahul. "Officers need to be accessible and must have the basic knowledge. Handicapped individuals, especially those who are on their own, must not be made to run a lot and processes should be simplified," said Hendre.
Abhay Deshpande, chief of Andheri RTO, said, "In cases of the specially abled, each individual is different and their requirements and disability have to be taken into consideration. We cannot have a blanket rule." In Gulgule's case, Deshpande says, they did not follow up enough with the papers that they were asked to carry home, besides not having attached an important certificate from the sidecar supplier. It is also important to register the vehicle in the driver's name. "Then we grant a tax exemption for that vehicle. The RTO has to also check how safe the vehicle is for the individual as well as others on the road," said Deshpande.
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