news Friday, July 10, 2015 - 05:30
Image Courtesy: Drive Without Borders/ Facebook Last July, Waseem Memom witnessed a man getting harassed allegedly by touts posing as RTO officials in broad daylight in Bengaluru. The man was driving a Haryana registered car and was apparently thrashed in full public view. “On that day I realised that I could be the next guy,” he says. Similarly, 28-year-old Emil Mathew shared an emotional bond with his Ford and wanted to bring it to Bengaluru from Kerala as he worked in the city. But he too was worried about the Lifetime Tax imposed in the state and his vehicle getting impounded. These were not isolated incidents where people with vehicles bearing non-Karnataka registration numbers were getting harassed; the large floating population in the city has faced and still faces a similar ordeal. But their ordeals brought like-minded people like Emil, S Ramasubramanian, Waseem (all from different states) and three others who were fed up with the state’s transportation and tax policy. They got together virtually and started a Facebook group called “Justice for non-Karnataka registered vehicles” -  a platform for people to share their grievances. From left: Waseem Memom, Jineesh V, S Ramasubramanian, Emil Mathew The buzz created was covered by mainstream media. "A news report by Amritha TV was the first time we were covered by the media," recalls Jineesh V, another active member of the group. After months of engaging with bureaucrats and politicians which did not avail any positive response, they approached the Supreme Court in 2014 seeking respite from the state’s amended taxation policy. The Karnataka Vehicles Taxation (Amendment) Act, 2014 had changed the duration for out-station based vehicles to pay “Lifetime Tax”  from 11 months to a mere 30 days, causing huge inconvenience to people. The team members of Drive Without Border with Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy/ Facebook However, the apex court redirected them to the Karnataka High Court as it was a state-specific issue. Waseem and another IT professional, Ananthu, filed a PIL in the High Court urging it to quash the amendment as it had not received the President’s assent. The court provided a temporary stay in January this year which got vacated on April 14. “Even the 10 weeks stay was a big victory for us and encouraged us to fight further,” said Waseem. Meanwhile, they noticed that people from other states too complained on the Facebook group of facing similar problem. Waseem, Ramasubramanian, Rohit Chouhan and a few others decided to address the issue nationally and started another Facebook page called ‘Drive Without Borders’ (DWB) about five months ago.  While in a full-time job at Contract Research Organisation (CRO), Waseem also had to manage social media, meet lawyers, arrange for logistics, etc, which consumed a lot his time. In February this year, the 38-year-old quit his job to dedicate all his time and energy to the campaign which is seeking “One Nation – One Road” tax policy. He even started an online petition on urging people to help the team in its fight for freedom of movement across the country as promised by the Constitution. The team with Union Minister Nitin Gadkari/ Jineesh V/ Facebook Within a few days, the campaign gathered 56,000 signatures pan India and it was submitted to Union Minister for Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari in May. The minister assured them that a new Motor Vehicles Bill would soon be introduced in the Parliament which would seek to overhaul the current system. Why do we need a new MV Act? Explaining the need for revamping, Waseem says the current Central Motor Vehicles Act came into existence a hundred years ago in 1914. Despite amendments, the present CMV Act states that any vehicle bearing the registration number of that state can ply in another state only for 11 months without paying tax. Beyond 11 months, the vehicle owner is required to pay a “Lifetime Tax” or LTT which is decided based on the model of the vehicle and as per the tax rate fixed in each state. Along with the sudden reduction of taxation period to 30 days, Karnataka also imposes the highest LTT with 14.5 per cent for vehicles under Rs 0-5 lakhs slab while the national average is 6 per cent. Another critical issue faced by vehicle users visiting the city for a short span is that there is no way one can prove that they have been in the state for less than 30 days. RTO officials even reject the toll receipts, said Waseem. A member of DWB obtained a similar stay from Hyderabad High Court against the Telangana RTO which was collecting fines from outstation vehicles. It’s nearly been one year since the campaign was begun, but the goal seems to be far away for the team. Despite social media campaigns, online petitions, meeting the union minister, state officials and bureaucrats to pursue this issue, RTO officials continue to crack down on out station vehicles. Emil, an IT professional says that though the temporary stay was a positive reinforcement, they have had many setbacks along the way. He narrates an incident where the team met a state minister urging him to roll back the amended tax policy. They suggested that the state could introduce a policy like Kerala’s where out-station based vehicles were taxed for a nominal amount on yearly basis. The minister made calls immediately and told officials concerned to look at the feasibility. “But it was all an eye-wash, just false assurance,” he says. Ramasubramanian feels that the current taxation policy is a good source of generating revenue thus no government is inclined to lose it. But they are not the ones to give up hope despite being aware that they have along battle ahead of them. “We have over 25,000 members of Facebook and we are determined to create bigger noise. Only judiciary can solve this issue, not politicians,” he says. The group has recently filed a PIL once again in the Karnataka High Court seeking quashing of the amendment and is confident that this time they will be successful.  
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