Craze for vanity plates on a new high in Chandigarh

French architect Le Corbusier-designed Chandigarh has hit a new “vanity” high. The city’s fascination for luxury and ostentation is no secret, yet its appetite for more showiness appears never ending. How else would you descri­be a whopping Rs 26.5 lakh spent by a city resident to buy a premium single digit number-- 0001 for his luxury sedan.

One of the proud owners of 0001 in Chandigarh. People bid for fancy registration numbers paying a huge amount during the bidding. DH PhotoIt’s perhaps the highest price anyone has ever paid in India for procuring what is being dubbed as vanity numbers. And it’s not the first time this cash-rich city has seen residents paying huge amount of money for buying such numbers. The craze for vanity numbers, or as some may say VIP numbers, is sweeping the city like an addiction.

Of course, it’s only the Riche Rich who qualify in the league, but the registration and licensing authority (RLA) is laughing all the way. The bounty of huge cash it manages to generate every time it comes up with the auction of such numbers is something which has surprised even the authorities. By the end of 2011, the authority managed to generate nearly Rs 45 crore just by selling such numbers. The previous year when the craze was just picking up, the authorities generated much less money of Rs 6.8 crore.

Last week turned out to be a special for the authorities. An un-assuming Amarjit Singh raised the bar at the auction to a level which may take some time to breach. An agriculturist and a builder by profession, Singh wouldn’t let anyone come in way of his desire, perhaps obsession, to bag the number 0001 for his Mercedes Benz S-Class. As Singh kept on upping the bid, it all ended with him coughing up over Rs 26 lakh for the number--more that the price of an average two-bedroom apartment in city suburbs-- for the number of his choice. The number had a reserve price of only Rs 25,000.

Amarjit Singh has his justification, or some would say superstition, for paying this huge amount for a mere number for his sedan. He said: “This number is my lucky number and I was ready to pay any amount to bid for it.”

In June this year, an Amritsar-based businessman and agriculturist, Jagjit Singh Chahal, paid Rs 17 lakh for another series of 0001 number for his SUV. Interestingly, Chahal has a fleet of cars, from low priced Fiat to high end Land Cruisers, with all having 0001 number. “I cannot think of another number for my cars, no matter what price,” Chahal said.

Former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore, convicted in the infamous molestation case of Ruchika Girhotra, too had fancied a vanity number this year. He dished out over Rs 9 lakh to buy number 0001 for a Mercedes car he had gifted to his wife. The auction is held every three months on an average. In a city of 11 lakh people owning over nine lakh registered vehicles, there are hundreds of vanity numbers you can now see on seamless city roads.

So what’s it that’s triggered the craze. Some say it’s a vanity statement, a statement arguable misplaced of “who you are”. A senior official in the RLA said the flow of applications some time ago was very less, as low as eight. The recent
auction saw nearly 500 applicants vying for vanity numbers. “It’s become a fashion statement. For some it’s a manifestation of being rich and powerful. For us it’s a new found handsome source of income,” the official quipped. It was in May 2010 that a city hogged the limelight being the first in the region to break the Rs 1 million mark to get the vehicle number 0001.

Another official said many want their preferred numbers for reasons of luck,
superstition and identity. “A Chandigarh businessman purchased 4444 number for Rs 7.75 lakh. A religious sect in Punjab was fascinated by the assault rifle
AK-0047 number series and paid over Rs 3 lakh for it for its luxury car,” he said.

In fact, before the number 0001 hit a new high this month, it was the James Bond famed 0007 and 0009 numbers that were more in demand. These numbers were the favourite choice of applicants, but 0001 number has proved it’s the numero uno.

The Delhi Government, too, is hoping to make most of the surging craze for vanity numbers among people. It recently ann­ounced a category where people can bid for numbers which they prefer based on birthdays, anniversaries or numerology.

The Delhi Government decided a fortnight ago to auction VIP and fancy car numbers at a high price to garner an additional revenue of Rs 100-200 crore. Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said the intention is not only to generate money but also to utilise it for welfare.

The amount will be transferred to the chief minister's relief fund for enhancing the sphere of grant during natural calamities and for the needy people facing hardships.     
 
The auction will be held every fortnight in the national capital where according to the policy, Rs 5 lakh has been fixed as the highest reserved premium for the most sought-after number-0001. The second category with series 0002-0009 will
attract a minimum premium of Rs 3 lakh. Auspicious numbers like 786, revered by Muslims, has also been kept at a high premium.

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