Clearing the backlog of smart licences a challenge for transport departmentThousands affected as the driving licence application process remains suspended since April 29.
When Saurav Pokharel, 22, of Gothatar, Kathmandu filled up the online driving licence application form in March 2021, he was surprised to see the written examination date allotted to him was in January 2022.
Pokharel was already frustrated upon learning that he would have to wait for over 10 months just to sit the written exams. His concern has increased even more as the Department of Transport Management from the midnight of April 29 stopped accepting online applications citing the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. This could mean that the scheduled examination date could be postponed further.
“I am totally clueless about when will the services resume and when will I be able to take the trial examination,” said Pokharel, who now uses public transport to commute to his work at Baneshwar from Mulpani.
“My brother had bought a second hand scooter for me as travelling by public transport is risky during the pandemic, but I haven’t been able to use it because I don’t have a driving licence,” said Pokharel.
The prohibitory orders were imposed in the three districts of Kathmandu Valley from April 29 amid a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases, after which the department had also closed its services. But while the authorities are gradually lifting the restrictions, the department has not yet started accepting online applications and this has affected thousands of people like Pokharel who are desperately waiting for their written and trial examinations.
According to Dr Loknath Bhusal, spokesperson for the Department of Transport Management, online applications will not be accepted until the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre recommends the Cabinet to allow the examination process.
“We already have over 700,000 applicants who are waiting for their trial dates, so we don’t want more people to be on the queue,” said Bhusal. “The driver’s licence exams have been placed under the school/college category. We can resume accepting applications only after the government reopens school and colleges.”
Even last year, on March 24, the department had halted all its services after a nationwide lockdown was imposed. The department resumed its service after nine months on December 29.
For the Department of Transport Management, clearing the backlog has always remained a big challenge. There are still over 600,000 smart licences yet to be printed, officials said.
The department had tried different ways to clear the backlog.
On October 23, 2018, the department had awarded a contract to Malika Incorporated to print more than 500,000 backlog licences, but the firm was able to print just 360,000 cards during its contract period.
In July 2019, the department purchased its own printer to meet the demand for driving licences. Still, it has not been able to provide licenses on time.
According to Bhusal, the reason for the huge backlog is because the department in 2015 decided to replace the paper licences with smart ones. It was a huge technological shift that brought along many challenges.
“We had to import the cards for the licences and a new printer and the process was time-consuming which resulted in a huge backlog of applications,” said Bhusal. “Also, the number of applicants is very high and as we have run out of the licence cards, we couldn’t print any licence during the prohibitory period.”
According to the department officials, they have asked for 1.4 million cards from their French supplier.
However, the cards have not arrived yet, according to Bhusal.
“Once we receive the cards, we will start printing licences,” Bhusal added.
Amidst the chaos and delay in service delivery, the department has changed the licence test criteria as well.
Officials said the department will publish a set of 500 to 1,000 questions on its website and the test questions would be asked from the same set.
In the driving test, no one will fail for making minor mistakes, like they used to in the past. Likewise, the department has proposed a marking system for the test.
“Out of the full mark of 100, those who obtain 60 will qualify for a driving licence. While driving in the figure eight pattern, even if the examinee fails to complete the figure but meets other criteria and has scored the pass mark, he or she is eligible for a driving licence,” said Bhusal.
But Pokharel thinks since the exams have been made easier, more people will apply and it might take longer to receive driving licences.
“The authorities were unable to supply licences even when the trial exam was tough. Now that the exam has been made easier, more people will pass the test and the authorities will have a hard time meeting the demand.”
Smart licences were first issued in December 2015.