Attiqur Rehman bought a white Suzuki Alto and applied for registration plates in August last year. Six months later, he made his seventh trip to the Excise and Taxation (E&T) office but his registration plate (LED 7373) was still not ready. Meanwhile, he has been fined twice by traffic wardens for driving a car without the registration plates.
For people who have bought cars and applied for registration plates over the last six months, it is a familiar Catch 22: a shortage of plates means they are not getting them, while traffic wardens continue to fine them for driving without them. Meanwhile, the E&T office has stopped even trying to issue plates on time, unless they get “special” requests.
“The Punjab government needs to address this issue,” said Rehman. “It is a nightmare for thousands of people.”
The number of people issued challans for driving a car without registration plates jumped 32 per cent in 2011 from 2010, according to documents available with The Express Tribune.
The number of challans dropped off from November 2011 as the traffic police shifted priorities from focusing on vehicles without registration plates to traffic rules like lane violations, said sources in the traffic police. Some 500 fines were issued in January 2012.
A traffic warden said that there was no exemption for drivers who were awaiting registration plates.
City Traffic SP Mustafa Hameed Malik said that the traffic police had received no word from the E&T Department about exemptions on challans for people who had applied for registration plates. “If the issue is six months old it should have been brought to our attention. We will not provide any relaxation until informed to do so in writing,” he said.
E&T Director General Anwar Rasheed said that the traffic police was aware of the problem but had not been informed in writing. He refused to say if and when such a written communication would be sent to the traffic police.
Those who have applied for registration plates, which costs Rs1,000, and received a number can avoid a challan by getting a generic plate, which costs around Rs600. “Why should I spend more money on unauthentic plates when I have already paid for genuine ones?” said Zulfiqar Naqvi, who said he had visited the E&T office three times since October and still not received his car registration plates.
Shortage of plates
According to a source in the E&T office familiar with the data, close to 20,000 people are awaiting registration plates ‑ 4,500 of the LED 2011 number series, 8,000 of LEE 2011, 4,500 of LE 2012 and 2,500 of LEA 2012.
Only 5,000 number plates of the LED 2011 series, which started in September, and of the LE 2012 series, which started in January, have been issued. Only around a thousand, the three digit numbers, have been issued of the LEE 2011 series, said the source. Most of the LEN 2012 (January) and LEO 2012 (February) series for motorbikes were yet to be issued, he said.
Documents available with The Express Tribune show that E&T officers sent special requests for some number plates. Customers and agents, who help customers at the E&T office, alleged that officials seek bribes for these special requests to get plates quickly.
Around 250 number plates of the LED 2011 and LEA 2012 series of cars, the LEG and LEJ series for government and semi-government vehicles, and the LEO 2012 series of bikes were issued to vehicle owners at the E&T offices in Defence and at Fareedkot House on February 27.
Sources familiar with the process said that when a vehicle owner arrived at the E&T office for updates on his number plates, he was referred to the data entry operator of the Motor Registration Authority (MRA) for New Cars. He was then told to wait a few more days. The frustrated customer, who had usually made several trips to the office, was then offered the chance to pay a little extra to get his plates, they said.
Syed Istafa Haider, the official in charge of the MRA for New Cars, denied that there was any bribery. He said that other than three-digit number plates and auctioned numbers, there was a shortage of plates. He said that special requests were issued “in the rare cases where genuine customers approach us”.
E&T DG Rasheed said that of the 5,000 registration plates issued in January, 1,800 were yet to be collected. He said that those who applied for these registration numbers were probably using unauthentic plates.
“The stock of plates is limited so we don’t want to waste them on people who won’t even come to collect them. That is why we are only issuing plates on special request,” he said.
To make a special request, he said, the vehicle owner should contact the excise and taxation officer (ETO) rather than the data entry operator. He said that around 7,000 people were waiting for car plates, not 20,000. He said that the E&T Department had invited tenders for companies which could supply them with number plates to replace their previous supplier, 3M Private Limited.
Rasheed said that allegations of bribery would be looked into and the guilty officials punished.
Zafar Iqbal Goraya of the Jail Road Traders Association, whose members are mostly car show rooms, said that customers were being forced to wait far too long for licence plates. He said it was unfair of the E&T office to only take people’s applications for number plates seriously when they visited the office several times or if they had connections to people with influence. He said people awaiting registration plates should at least be exempt from challans.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2012.
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