Despite stricter enforcement of the helmet rule in the city, a large number of motorists continue to hit the roads unprotected. A significant reason behind this large-scale shirking of the norm seems to be the hefty 14.5% VAT levied on helmets, which either prompts motorists to renege on buying them or makes them turn to low-cost substandard helmets found flooding city stores.
While states like Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have done away with the VAT component on helmets in order to promote the usage of the essential safety gear, cities like Delhi and Bangalore have lowered the tax to 5%. However, this is not the case in Hyderabad, where driving without a helmet continues to be on top of the list of traffic violations.
Vendors in the city assert that selling a good-quality helmet has now become a challenge. A good quality helmet costs anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 and an additional 14.5% VAT easily increases the cost by Rs 150 to Rs 250.
"Due to increased enforcement checks by authorities, motorists have turned hostile towards sellers. Last week, when I tried to show a few options to a motorist, he accused 'sellers' of being hand in glove with cops to mint money by selling costly helmets. People here think of helmets as an imposition rather than a protective gear that has been designed for their own good," said Rashid Sheikh, who owns a store in Abids.
Waseem Memon, who kick-started the 'Drive without borders: One nation one road tax' online campaign, suggested that the VAT imposed on helmets be done away with. "As there is little awareness among motorists on the importance of helmets, many avoid buying the ISI certified ones. The government should waive the VAT to promote helmet usage like in Delhi and Chennai. Just increasing the enforcement drive might force people to buy cheaper, low-quality helmets," said Memon.
When TOI pointed out that an alarming number of motorists are resorting to buying substandard helmets due to the imposition of VAT, B Venkateshwarlu, joint transport commissioner, Telangana, said, "Since it is a policy matter, there has to be a representation made to the excise department to bring about a change. This issue had not come to our notice earlier. It needs to be resolved if people are buying low-quality helmets because of an extra hundred or two hundred rupees."