CHANDIGARH — India’s centralised motor vehicles online database Vahan has been misused to illegally enter fake registration numbers of vehicles without the necessary supporting documents, according to an order issued by the Punjab State Transport Commissioner and accessed by HuffPost India.
The matter came to light when the commissioner’s office was looking into a complaint about an old-school seven-digit licence plate being allotted to two different cars, a Mercedes Benz and an Audi. While investigating this, the department found that according to the Vahan portal, the number had been matched to a third vehicle, an E-Maggic Cargo rickshaw, for which no registration certificate was issued.
“While scrutinising the record, another issue has come to light that in the Vahan 4.0 application where the registration of the vehicles is reflected, a vehicle with registration mark PCW-0001 reflects in the name of Sh. Mohan Singh Bains, r/o GSP, Pathankot though no registration certificate has been issued,” said the order dated August 4.
Amarpal Singh, Punjab’s State Transport Commissioner (STC), has ordered an enquiry into the matter and asked for a report to be submitted in three weeks.
The number has now been blacklisted on the Vahan portal.
HuffPost India had reported in July that the craze for so-called ‘fancy’ licence plates had led to a thriving black market in Punjab that spanned officers in the Registration Transport Authority (RTA), scrap dealers, touts and car salesmen.
To procure vanity registration numbers that begin with three-letter sequences such as PCS, PUF, PCW or PEG, influential Punjabis pay lakhs of rupees to buy rundown vehicles marked for the scrap dealer. These numbers belong to vehicles registered before the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 standardised a common template for vehicle registration numbers across India.
The numbers are then transferred to new vehicles in violation of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.
The network has also managed to ensure that these numbers are illegally uploaded onto Vahan, the HuffPost India investigation had found.
Sources in the Punjab transport department told HuffPost India that the so-called transport “mafia”, in connivance with the clerks in various RTA offices, has been grossly misusing the ‘backlog’ facility provided in the Vahan portal to add details of vehicles that had already been registered earlier to other vehicles. Before the implementation of Vahan, vehicle registration in most states was either done manually or on standalone computers.
“It seems that an unauthorized attempt has been made in the Vahan portal to include the above-said vehicle,” the STC’s order said.
The transport department sources added that there is no clarity about the number of entries added to Vahan through the backlog process as well as the identities of the staff members whose login details may have been used by the agents.
STC Singh refused to comment on the matter. HuffPost India has sent an email to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, which runs the Vahan portal, and will update this article once they respond.
Sharad Satya Chauhan, Punjab Additional Director General of Police, Traffic, expressed shock over the fact that a single number had been issued ‘officially’ to different vehicles.
“There had been cases where some people used their fancy numbers on multiple vehicles owned by them, but the allocation of a single registration mark to multiple vehicles by the state transport department seems to be a serious issue and needs to be investigated,” he told HuffPost India over the phone.
He added that transferring old registration numbers that pre-date the 1988 Act onto newer vehicles was in itself a clear violation of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989.
“This cannot be done as the registration numbers issued under the Motor vehicle 1939 can only be retained on the vehicles registered under the same act,” he said.
A Benz, Audi and E-Rickshaw with the same number plate
In April 2019, Indian Sucrose Ltd, a Hoshiarpur-based company, filed a plea in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, saying that they had found that the registration number PCW 0001, which was reissued by the Pathankot RTA to their Mercedes Benz car, had also been allotted to an Audi car owned by Mohali-based company Ambreen Infratech Pvt. Ltd.
The number originally belonged to an Ambassador car bought by Indian Sucrose Ltd in 2003.
In December 2019, the court directed the STC Punjab to investigate the matter. During the enquiry, the RTA Pathankot office claimed it had lost the file related to the registration mark while transferring it from the office of the SDM Pathankot to the District Transport Office. According to its available records, the registration number belonged to an Ambassador car in the possession of Indian Sucrose Ltd.
The STC investigation also found that the number had been issued to Ambreen Infratech’s Audi in “an unauthorized and illegal manner” as Form 20, which has details of the vehicle owner, did not have any sign of the owner. The district transport authority was also found to have started a new unauthorized register without reconstructing the lost one, a blatant violation under the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989.
After this, the STC’s office also found that according to the Vahan portal, the number, now blacklisted, had been issued to a third vehicle, an e-rickshaw owned by Mohan Singh Bains from Pathankot.
There had been cases where some people used their fancy numbers on multiple vehicles owned by them, but the allocation of a single registration mark to multiple vehicles by the state transport department seems to be a serious issue and needs to be investigated.Sharad Satya Chauhan, Additional Director General of Police, Traffic,Punjab
This is far from the only case where vehicle owners have discovered that they share their registration numbers with others.
Sanjeev Kumar, hailing from Sri Muktsar Sahib district who owns an old Ambassador car with registration number PAI-1, was shocked to find that the same number was issued to a Toyota Land Cruiser owned by Rajinder Singh, a Jalandhar resident in 2019.
Speaking to HuffPost India over the phone, Kumar said that he has been fighting to get the number removed from the other vehicle since last year but to no effect. Both vehicles are still running on Punjab’s roads with the same number.
“The department should conduct a thorough investigation into the matter to unearth a big scam of transferring the VIP numbers from the old vehicles to the high-end cars for money,” said Kumar.
In a complaint submitted to the State transport Commissioner, Kumar alleged that the then Regional Transport Authority of Ludhiana and her staff members did not take action into the matter.
“I am in possession of the receipts of all the taxes I had paid for my vehicle till 2019 and despite this, the number was issued to someone else without seeking an NOC from me,” said Kumar.
In yet another case, Usha Goel, a resident of Mansa district of Punjab, purchased a brand new Chevrolet Cruze LTZ in 2011 and was allotted the registration number PCP -0008 by paying Rs5,000 extra as ‘fancy number’ charges. However, in 2011, she found out that the number is actually registered to a Padmini car owned by Manjit Kaur from Mohali district since August 1987.
Senior vigilance officers who have been investigating scams of this nature had toldHuffPost India on condition of anonymity that this poses a serious threat in a border state such as Punjab.
“Since the majority of these numbers are owned by top political leaders, the cops deployed at the check posts do not gather the courage to stop them. They do not even check whether the number plate is genuine or fake, hence giving a free way to people involved in illicit trade like drugs and can even be used for the ferrying of terrorists and even arms and ammunition from the border villages to other districts,” a vigilance officer said.