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Number plates in legal soup
- Tamper-proof registration postponed indefinitely

The sorry state of affairs in Jharkhand has claimed yet another project of public interest.

Installation of high-security registration plates, which have been made mandatory nationwide to prevent theft and misuse of vehicles, has been put on the backburner for an indefinite period with the state transport department and the Ghaziabad-based private implementation agency sparring in court over inordinate delay in execution of the project.

The tamper-proof registration plates had debuted in capital Ranchi on May 30. It embossed and affixed only 8,000 hi-tech plates across state.

But, accusing the agency — M/s Agro Impex (I) Private Limited — of incompetence, the transport department slapped contract termination orders on August 13. The agency, in turn, moved Jharkhand High Court last month, challenging the termination on the ground that the department was not co-operative in furnishing details of vehicles.

The matter is, currently, sub judice. “A hearing was scheduled on the third of this month, but the department sought 20 more days to prepare its case. So, we are waiting for the court’s orders now,” said Kaushal Neyaz, the state head of Agro Impex.

The number plate project has been facing hiccups in Jharkhand from the very beginning. First, it missed the Supreme Court deadline of November 2011, which was fixed for all states. The government filed an affidavit in the apex court and won an extension till April 31, 2012, only to miss it again.

One of the reasons behind the delay was a controversy over selection of the private firm through a public tender in October-November last year.

Then commissioner of the transport department A.K. Sharma had alleged that Agro Impex had dubious records and lacked valid credentials. A special committee formed to probe into the allegations gave the firm a clean chit.

An agreement was, finally, inked with the agency in the second week of May. “But, things weren’t easy. The government failed to provide us room in districts to set up our embossing and affixation machines. If I am not mistaken, the Sahebganj administration still hasn’t provided us space,” said another official of the private firm.

“We were selected after a series of presentations and through public tender. Now, the transport department says that we don’t have equipment and manpower, and are delaying work. The truth is, the flow of work depends on data provided by district transport departments. Now, if they delay things, how can we churn out registration plates on time. So, we have challenged the termination in court,” he added.

Joint transport commissioner R.K. Ram claimed they were trying to find other alternatives to get the project back on its feet. “We have terminated our contract with the agency and are trying to come out with another tender. But, things are slow-paced because the matter is sub judice,” he added.

Whatever be the verdict, the much-needed high-security number plates in a state where every day is heyday for vehicle-lifters is unlikely to hit the road anytime soon.