The premises of the Excise Department Lahore are over crowded. People are waiting in long queues and their agony is writ large on their weary faces.
Close by, hawk-eyed ‘agents’ have their gaze fixed on the entrance. They would rush as just as they spot a visitor — it’s almost like they are out to catch the bait — and offer their ‘services’ for a certain amount of ‘speed money.’ If they are paid the amount, the visitor won’t have to wait in the line. What’s more, all necessary documentation shall be managed by the agent, it is promised.
At a little distance from the main gate, under the shadow of a verandah, Muhammad Usman is busy fixing a non-digital number plate (a fake plate which has the design and appearance similar to the original) to his new motorcycle. The officials of the Excise Department pass him by, not even noticing him.
According to sources, the Excise Department prepares 20,000 digital number plates on a daily basis at plants installed in Shadman. The raw material is imported from Germany. Aluminum is used in these number plates as it reflects light. The numbers are laser-printed.
Usman says that he “applied for copy/documents of my motorcycle about 25 days ago. I paid the full fee for this and was told that the documents and digital number plate would be delivered by a courier service at my house. I waited for 15 days but received nothing.”
He says that every time he pulled his motorbike out on the road, he was stopped by the police for going without a number plate. That’s what brought him to the Excise office. But he didn’t know his misery wasn’t going to end there. “An Excise official provided me with documents only of the bike,” Usman says. “They did not give me the number plate. They said there’s a shortage [of number plates]. Therefore, I was forced to get a copy of the original; it’s not computerised or digital.”
This is not a problem which is particular to Muhammad Usman; an entire population of the city is going to be affected, as the government plans to crack down against the vehicles that are without the digital number plates.
The digital number plates are central to the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s ‘Safe City Project.’ It is believed that special cameras shall be installed at all the important exit and entry points as well as on the main roads in Lahore which shall be able to read the digital numbers and, thus, help in keeping track of the vehicles’ movement.
The cameras shall not be able to read non-digital number plates.
The citizens of Lahore are having trouble getting hold of these plates. They are often left shuttling between the Excise Department and the courier service engaged for the purpose. Often, to no success.
So, what are the reasons for this mess? Adeel Amjad, an Excise officer who is in charge of the number plates project, claims that so far “4.6 million digital number plates have been delivered [to the vehicle owners] in Punjab since 2006. Among them 150,000 number plates belong to bikers.
“We have been able to produce and deliver almost 80 percent of the said number plates of vehicles,” he says. “141,000 number plates have been returned by TCS (courier service) which is trying to reach out to the owners on priority basis. If the [vehicle owners’] addresses have been changed, a message is sent out to them on their mobile phones.”
He also says the department is in contact with NADRA and looks forward to getting help in searching the addresses and mobile numbers of the untraceable applicants.
Amjad is of the view that no fee for number plates was charged by the Excise Department between November 2012 and November 2014. “We are trying to clear the backlog, and have requested the general vehicle owners to acquire digital number plates and discard the previous, non-digital ones.
“If they don’t get this done, their vehicles shall be booked by the police and they will have to face the consequences.”
Meanwhile, it is learnt that incomplete data and lack of planning in areas like Dharampura, Saanda, and Kachi Abadis are creating hurdles in a smooth and prompt delivery of the said number plates. Often, the people from these areas visit the Excise office and collect the plates which were returned by the courier.
Most customers complain that the Tranzum Companies & Services (TCS) employers save their fuel by not delivering the number plates at the addresses given, even though the Excise Department pay them Rs700 per delivery.
When asked, a TCS official rejects the allegation, saying that the company’s employees deliver the goods, come rain or shine.
“If the address is wrongly printed, delivery may not be possible,” he adds. “We return [the number plates] to the Excise Department if the owners of the vehicles changed their home address.
“There have been cases when we contacted the owners ourselves.”
Driving your vehicles that have no or fake number plates is a crime in the metropolitan city. The number of accidents has increased as drivers in unregistered cars move rashly on the roads because they are sure no one can easily trace them.
To control crime and free the city from terrorism, the government of Punjab has decided to install smart and intelligent cameras on the roadsides that can easily read the digital numbers of the vehicles. In the event of a criminal or terrorist activity, the law breakers shall be arrested by tracing their cars, jeeps etc with the help of multiple cameras communicating images of number plates and the movement log.
In May this year, the CM signed on an agreement with a Chinese company regarding the Safe City Project. It is supposed to start functioning from June 2107 but its soft inauguration shall be held in a couple of months.
According to Nabeela Ghazanfar, who was speaking on behalf of Mushtaq Sukhera, Inspector General of Police (IG) Punjab, “8,500 cameras shall be installed at around 1,600 venues. These cameras shall be directly connected to the Punjab Police’s Integrated Command, Communication and Control Center (PPICCCC) system at Qurban Lines. DIG operations and two SSP rank officers are said to monitor the system 24/7.
With the help of the project, all emergency services including 1122, ambulances, fire brigade, and 15 service shall be managed.