Ludhiana-based Dr Kamal Soi is a Road Safety expert of national and international recognition. Here are the excerpts of his interview with Raju William about his long-drawn legal battle on the issue of affixing High Security Registration Plate (HSRP) on nearly 60 lakh vehicles in Punjab.
Q. Since you are a road safety expert, how do you view the state government’s decision on affixation of the HSRPs on vehicles by June 30, 2020?
A. This is a welcome order though pending for long. All our adjoining states had already implemented and we needed it badly in Punjab which being a border state is vulnerable from the security point of view. Although we started the process in Punjab in the year 2011 but due to low quality of the HSRP and some missing features it could not be implemented. In fact, the process was halted due to my intervention and subsequent order of Punjab and Haryana High Court. Now as this order has come I am sure the company authorized for affixing these number plates will comply with Rule 50 of the Motor Vehicle Act. This way quality of the number plates will be maintained so that Punjabis get the HSRPs on their vehicles to save them from the harassment being faced in the adjoining states and other areas due to absence of these.
Q. What exactly is the need of introducing the system of having the HSRPs affixed on vehicles in the country?
A. If we take a look at too distant history and even in present time, we will see that vehicle-borne crimes are happening at frightening regularity. And some of the major crimes including terrorist attack on the Army base in Pathankot and on the CRPF convey in Balakot were committed using vehicles with forged number plates. Even the narcotics and liquor smuggling is happening in vehicles with forged/counterfeit number plates. Even target killings in Punjab were done using motorbikes in similar manner. So having a HSRP with all security features embedded in it and which cannot be forged is the answer to lower the crime rate. You will agree all the crimes like murders, snatchings, and bank robberies etc happen on vehicles with forged number plates. So it was need of the hour to implement a system in which the control of number plates is in the government hands. Even traffic violations can be easily trached and violators penalised if we have uniform number plates integrated with Vahan Software. Time has come for manual policing making way for technology interventions like Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology. We need number plates which are of uniform standard, material and security features.
Q. Tell us about the Punjab and Haryana High Court order and when was it passed?
A. The HC had passed the order in 2015 with a direction to the State of Punjab to implement the system of affixing these high security number plates on vehicles with all the security features in place like the Snap locks, Hologram, the unique ID on the plates, data to be provided to the transport department and their integration with Vahan Software in a seamless manner so that the real impact of the HSRPs is achieved.
Q Did you fight the legal battle in individual capacity or were there any associates?
A. I am Chairman of an NGO Raahat-The Safe Community Foundation which was established in2006 and through this,we fight all our legal battles to get justice to public in the areas of road safety, drug de–addiction, female feticide and, poverty alleviation etc. We can be reached at www.raahatthesafecommunityfoundation.com
Q. What made you approach the Supreme Court of India?
A. After exhausting all avenues, we went to the Judiciary to get justice. For the first time, Rule 50 of the MV Act was amended in 2001 for the implementation of the HSRP system when former Congress leader from Punjab MS Bitta approached the Supreme Court. But still nothing was happening at the central and state levels. Though the MV Act is a state subject yet the state governments were not implementing due to reasons best known to them. So the only way left was to knock at the doors of the Supreme Court for the much need relief. The SC issued notice to all the states to ensure implementation of its own order for affixation of the HSRPs on all the vehicles.
Q. Why it took long for the state government to decide on the implementation of the court order?
A. The answer lies with the people sitting at helm of affairs. As I have already said the MC Act being a state subject, these people made the issue linger on. Bureaucrats largely don’t like to own any project, so in spite of the fact that a few officers and politicians showed inclination yet a powerful transport lobby created hurdles in their way. I thank Almighty that better sense has prevailed and our consistent pressure through letters, emails to the Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, all other concerned ones worked and hopefully all the vehicles in the state will now have the HSRP number plates affixed.
Q. Are you hopeful about complete compliance of the state government order?
A. Yes, I am hopeful yet watchful. I and my team had an online meeting on May 24, 2020 and have decided to keep a tab on all the activities related to implementation of this order so that only good quality HSRPs are affixed. As it’s likely to be a huge number of HSRPs close to 60 lakh, it has to be ensured that the vehicle owners are not fleeced or harassed waiting for the number plates. And in the case of discrepancy or deficiency in the implementation process, we will not shy away from approaching the judicial channels again.
Q. How hard and long was this battle for the HSRPs?
A. This has been long, harsh grilling 7-8 years during which we even received threats to life from the goons of the powerful lobbies with vested interest. But our mission is clear. We cannot be intimidated. We will ensure that people get only the good quality number plates at the authorized rates.
Q. What could be on the ground challenges in way of effective implementation of HSRP during Covid-19 situation?
A. I believe the biggest challenge is to mobilize enough resources to implement this order. The deadline of June 30, 2020 fixed by the state government offers very less time and task is very big. I request government to give at least 90 days to the people in view of the Covid-19 situation. It must be ensured that people follow proper social distancing, wear masks, sanitize vehicles during movement for affixation of the number plates.
Q. What suggestions would you like to make to the government to ensure safe and hassle-free affixation process?
A. Apart from giving sufficient time to people, the government should appoint nodal officers in all affixation centers to ensure quality and consistency. Online appointment and coupons should be issued to avoid crowd and wastage of time. There should be enough space/shade and arrangement of basic facilities at the place of affixation. The data of number plates should be immediately configured with Vahan software to avoid any duplicity. The guarantee certificate of 5 years should be handed over to the vehicle owners along with the plate affixation,