The controversy about the new embossed number plateTransport management office revises decision on compulsory adoption of the vehicle number plates after public outcry.
On June 3, the Department of Transport Management under the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport published a notice making embossed number plates mandatory for all vehicles operating in Bagmati and Gandaki provinces by July 17. The vehicles that do not comply with the rule will be penalised under the Motor Vehicles and Transport Management Act, 2049 (1993), the notice said.
Embossed number plates are mandated in all provinces, except Province 1 for it is yet to be named, from November 17.
In its statement on Monday, the ministry also showed its concerns about the ineffective implementation of mandated embossed number plates even though it was published in Nepal Gazette last year on November 8.
It has been seven months since the government’s notice and none of the provinces—Madhesh, Bagmati, Gandaki, Lumbini, Karnali and Sudurpaschim—have initiated the process to adopt embossed number plates.
The notice, however, generated widespread criticism with the public calling it impractical, hasty and forceful.
The issue was raised in Parliament as well.
While speaking in the House, Gagan Thapa, the general secretary of the Nepali Congress, lashed out at the government, saying the government directive has caused unnecessary trouble to the citizens.
Data from the transport department show that as of now only 25,000 vehicles including government vehicles have embossed number plates. Government agencies own an estimated 40,000 vehicles. Namaraj Ghimire, director general at the department, said the department is working to install embossed number plates on all 2.5 million vehicles in the coming 15 months.
What is an embossed number plate?
An embossed number plate has camera-readable digits. It is also embedded with an RFID (radio-frequency identification) microchip.
When did the government make the plan to launch an embossed number system?
The government’s plan to launch embossed number plates dates back a decade. The plan was included in the Three-Year Interim Plan 2007–2010, but it was put on the back burner due to a number of reasons like delays in conducting a proper study to roll out the project. However, on May 30, 2016, the government began distributing embossed number plates to vehicles based on the provincial structure against the existing zonal format.
Later, on February 22, 2018, the Supreme Court issued an interim order to stop issuing embossed number plates. A single bench of then chief justice Gopal Prasad Parajuli issued the interim order in response to a petition filed by environmentalist Bharat Basnet. Basnet had demanded that the Devanagari font be used on the number plates. He had also stated that the chip on the number plates could be used for spying and called it a breach of national security.
But on December 13, 2019, the Supreme Court vacated its stay order paving the way for the resumption of embossed number plate distribution.
“Three years ago, the court already paved the way for implementing the embossed number system. Some people may protest but this is the most scientific way to regulate vehicles,” said Ghimire, the director at the transport management.
With its statement on Tuesday, the DOTM also clarified that the embossed number plate is not equipped with a GPS vehicle tracking system.
Is it the first time the government has come up with such a decision?
No. The Department of Transport Management had announced that the embossed number plates would be made mandatory for all vehicles starting from July 16 last year. In his conversation with the Post, Ghimire had said that existing vehicles would be required to install the new number plates before applying for renewal of their registrations. It meant that the existing vehicles had to wait until their respective vehicle registration renewal dates. Also, he had said that the department could not implement it strictly earlier due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, nothing significant happened in between.
How have transport operators taken the government’s proposed mandate for an embossed number system?
The Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, along with other transport operators, has criticised the government’s decision as “impractical”, and the timetable set by the government as impossible to meet. “How can the government manage to enlist all those vehicles under the new system by July 17?” questioned Yogendra Karmacharya, chairperson of the Transport Entrepreneurs’ federation.
“Last year also, the government made a similar announcement, but that didn’t work. It’s not workable,” said Karmacharya. The federation has also expressed concerns about the language to be used on the embossed number system since many Nepalis aren’t comfortable using English in their daily lives.
Karmacharya also accused the government of trying to collect revenue from vehicle operators who faced huge losses due to the pandemic-induced restrictions until last year, and also at a time when the fuel prices have gone through the roof.
How much does it cost to get an embossed number plate for different categories of vehicles?
For an embossed number plate, the department charges two-wheelers Rs 2,500; three-wheelers (tempos) Rs 2,900; light four-wheelers including cars, jeeps, vans and tractors Rs 3,200; and heavy vehicles Rs 3,600.
What is the current controversy surrounding the new number plate regime? Why is everyone criticising it?
With the government decision last week to make embossed number plates mandatory, people are panicking and the transport office, especially in Kathmandu and Pokhara, are packed with service seekers. After the government's notice, many have questioned the intent of the government, given that installing embossed plates is costlier than the ones being commonly used. Critics say the government made a forceful announcement without proper technical preparations. Many have requested the government not to make it mandatory as it involves high cost. Based on the government's May 30, 2016 agreement, the department had to install embossed number plates in 2.5 million vehicles within five years of time. In the six years span, the government could not make the system effective and it was far from meeting its expectations. So far, only 25,000 vehicles have received embossed number plates. Even though the agreement phased out, last year again an agreement was made to meet the target within 28 months, which most people have criticised.
What do transport experts say about the embossed number regime and the present conflict?
Transportation and traffic engineers say stringent implementation of the embossed number system is the need of the hour as it helps to reduce theft of vehicles and is an easy tool to keep the record of the vehicles. However, questions have been raised about the management, especially given that the department has not been able to provide driver’s licence to a large number of applicants. “It was the government’s plan half a decade ago, but it should have been implemented strictly,” said Ashish Gajurel, a transportation and traffic engineer. “It’s a good system but I see a problem in management and distribution of the embossed number plates.”
What does the Department of Transport Management have to say on the issue?
After widespread criticism, the Transport Department on Tuesday backtracked from its earlier decision. Publishing a notice on Tuesday, the department stated that embossed numbers are not mandatory for all the public vehicles starting from July 17 and it’s not possible to provide embossed numbers within the remaining 40 days. The notice states that it was published based on a notice in the Nepal Gazette last November. At a press meet held on Tuesday, Ghimire, director at the transport department, said only three categories of vehicles will have to have embossed number plates by July 17 in Bagmati and Gandaki provinces: For those who have purchased new vehicles after November 17, those who have bought vehicles or vehicle transfer done in another name after February 13, and those who are in the process of renewing their vehicle registration certificate [known as bill book in Nepal] after May 15. Meanwhile, for other provinces, the department will start the process gradually, according to Ghimire.
According to the department, 250,000 embossed number plates have been printed for now and kept in store for distribution, and it has already taken all the necessary action to distribute new plates.