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Open House

The Directorate of Excise and Taxation (DET) office, based in the FaridKot House, overlooks an army of agents offering help in tasks such as getting your vehicle registered. God knows they haven’t set up shop legally

Open House
An agent for every purpose is to be found here. — Photos by Rahat Dar

There are two specific groups of people you come across as you approach the office of Directorate of Excise and Taxation (DET), located in the FaridKot House. One is the group of people in charge of the parking, which is approved by the Lahore Bar Council (LPC) instead of the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL), the authority responsible for it.

The other group which is hard to miss comprises agents that are ever ready to serve their clients who are there either for the registration of new vehicles or transference of ownership, or to pay the annual Token Tax. You find an agent for almost every purpose.

The categories are unmistakable: there are those who provide services like photocopying and handling of vehicle documents etc., whereas some are daily wagers who just act as middlemen between the customers and the first group of agents or patrons.

One such agent, Muhammad Iqbal, was seen trying to persuade a person who had come all the way from Shahdara to the DET office, to pay the annual token tax of his car. Iqbal successfully convinced the car owner, who was unable to pay the token fee within the stipulated time, that he would get it done without penalty, for a service charge of Rs800.

Another daily wager was seen persuading a customer outside the DET office to let him take care of his business. After a momentary exchange, the agent succeeded in convincing the man to park his car— the space for which was instantly provided by the parking stand management even at the rush hour.

The situation at the entrance gate of the DET office was no different. A dealer, sitting at the right hand side of the gate, was spotted bargaining with people, who were visiting the office to get their new motorbikes registered. The dealer was sealing each “registration deal” for a total of Rs2,000, promising to get it done in just under two hours with “VIP protocol.”

“Rehman bhai, get this done as soon as you can, or we won’t pay you anything,” said a customer. Rehman, the agent, assembled the documents and replied confidently, “Let’s go; you won’t be disappointed with my services.”

He stood up and headed towards the main entrance of the DET office, followed by both of his clients.

It was almost noon and all the service windows at the office, allocated separately to registration, transfer, and token tax, were extremely busy. The main hall of the office was brimming with people and the resulting suffocation could easily be felt, despite the air conditioning. So, how do the service providers sitting outside of the office get the job done so easily?

“Most of the facilitators sitting outside the DET office are the former employees of the office, whereas some are relatives of the current employees,” explains Adeel Amjad, Senior Excise & Taxation Officer and in charge of Number Plates, talking to TNS. “Due to this reason, they tend to have strong connections inside the office, which is indeed a challenge to tackle.

“There are, however, other reasons due to which the business of these facilitators is flourishing. For instance, the overall lazy attitude of the clients, and the illiterate owners of vehicles,” he says, adding that the people also prefer acquiring the services of agents since the regular procedure seems too daunting to them.

Prior to the DVRS, a Dealers’ Registration System (DRS) was introduced during the tenure of the former chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi in an attempt to regularise the dealers sitting outside the DET office. However, despite a request by the Excise & Taxation Department to turn it into a law, the DRS couldn’t be successfully implemented.

But does the DET office really have the capacity to cater to the needs of all the people who visit the office during the day? According to Amjad, “The current workforce [in the DET office] is around 150, which is unable to handle the quantum of work. The number of required seats hasn’t increased since 1991, due to which a Dealer Vehicle Registration System (DVRS) was introduced back in April 2017. Under the system, the department gave permission to car dealers to register new vehicles and issue their registration numbers, in a bid to reduce workload on the head office.

”Since its inception, some 20,000 vehicles have been registered through the system.”

 

Prior to the DVRS, a Dealers’ Registration System (DRS) was introduced during the tenure of the former chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi in an attempt to regularise the dealers sitting outside the DET office. However, despite a request by the Excise & Taxation Department to turn it into a law, the DRS couldn’t be successfully implemented.

“Through the DRS we would authorise the dealers to get the vehicles registered instead of adding to the main office’s already heavy workload,” says Malik Khalid, an Excise & Taxation officer.

“Most of the agents sitting outside are the authorised dealers of car leasing companies and showroom owners. They approach our office as representatives of these companies; and, therefore, we are bound to cater to them.

“By authorising the agents and dealers, the department could earn millions of rupees in reducing workload on the head office,” he adds.

Apart from the Faridkot DET head office, there are nine other registration offices in the city along with four facilitation centres, situated in DHA, PIA Housing Society, Shahdara, and Baghbanpura.

“These steps have been taken to reduce the workload on the head office as the population of Lahore is massive. However, the people still prefer to approach the head office,” says Amjad. “We do not have the authority or workforce to remove the agents and dealers sitting outside the head office. We can only request the Town Muncipal Administration (TMA) to demolish the encroachments and remove the parking as well as the agents’ outlets that have been set up illegally. No one bothers to do anything.”

Shehryar Warraich

The author is a member of the staff

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