Citizens still await computerised number plates

Pandemic and subsequent lockdowns hindered the arrival of raw materials, which delayed the production process

Rizwan Asif May 30, 2021

Following payments worth rupees two billion to the provincial excise department, over 2.5 million motor-vehicle owners have reportedly been twiddling their thumbs for the past three years, in anticipation of their computerised number plates.

As the public’s patience begins to brim, it now appears the Punjab Excise Taxation and Narcotics Control Department may have bit more than its capacity to chew, with its decision to computerise number plates of 1.8 million motorcyles and over 700,000 small and large vehicles, across the province.

In this regard, the department had entered into an agreement with the National Radio and Telecommunication Corporation (NTRC), to provide a permanent solution to the crisis. But as reports allege, NRTC officials failed to start bulk production for number plates in May as scheduled, and were warned by Excise Secretary Waqas Ali Mahmood and Director General Saleha Saeed to start bulk production from next month. NTRC will now produce 17,000 number plates daily, which by December 31, is expected to meet the backlog of 2.5 million number plates.

In correspondence between the two departments, it was learned that the global coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns had delayed the arrival of raw materials needed for the plates. Per shipment details, a consignment of 4.5 lakh plates from Germany is expected to reach Lahore in the next few days, following which registration numbers will be engraved on these plates in a factory at Kot Lakhpat.

“A few months ago, a fully automated plant was also ordered from Germany for the manufacture of NRTC number plates. However, the arrival of foreign experts in Pakistan for its installation and operation training was delayed. The company is currently importing raw plates due to delays in the arrival of foreign experts. After the arrival of foreign experts, the raw plates will also be readied at the same plant,” informed a source privy to the development.

The Excise Department had started computerising number plates in November 2006, for which contracts have been awarded to private companies in different periods of time. The contract with the private companies was however terminated in January 2018, after which the production of number plates had to be stopped. While owing to various legal hurdles, the department could not accept any tender for the manufacture of number plates either.

Later, NRTC, a subsidiary of the federal government, approached the Punjab government to sign an agreement for the manufacturing of the said number plates, which inched the programme back on track.

In the meanwhile however, the unavailability of computerised number plates has caused immense difficulty for car owners during snap-checking and inspections on road. On the other hand, the Safe City Authority is also said to be facing difficulties in monitoring the law and order situation, tracing crime, and issuing e-challans, for the same reason.

Talking to The Express Tribune in this regard, Punjab Excise and Taxation Director General Saleha Saeed said that they are fully aware of the concerns of the people but the delay has had not one but many reasons at its helm. “NRTC officials have assured that the production of 17,000 plates per day will start from the first week of next month and every effort will be made to provide plates to 2.5 million owners by December 31,” the DG corroborated.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2021.