Miles to go before you renew your driver's license

Miles to go before you renew your driver's license

Long and unruly queues continue, although the amount of paper work required for driving licence has decreased

Representative image. Credit: iStock Photo

Sooner or later, whether you like it or not, your driving licence comes up for renewal. In the living memory of most people, this meant visiting the jurisdictional Road Transport Office (RTO), putting up with long queues, bringing meaningless certificates together, confronting rude staff, that is, if you manage not to succumb to the entreaties of a multitude of touts and middlemen loitering around the RTO premises, who not only promised to but also surprisingly got your licence-related jobs done minus the hassle.

It is the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) that is accountable for increasing the mobility and efficiency of road transport system in the country by administering the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, ensuring that no person drives a motor vehicle in any public place unless one holds an effective driving licence authorising one to drive that vehicle. Fortunately, the MoRTH has become very proactive of late in smoothening the process of issue of driving licences (DLs) and alleviating problems faced by the general public.

The MoRTH began by facilitating the computerisation of more than 1,300 Road Transport Offices (RTOs) across the country. Earlier, when a manual process was in place, each state enforced different policies resulting in a DL becoming invalid in a state different from the state that issued it. This necessitated the redefining of standards to ensure interoperability, correctness and timely availability of all related documents on a pan-India level.

In early 2000, the MoRTH entrusted the National Informatics Centre with developing a standard called the 'Smart Card Operating System for Transport Applications' (SCOSTA) by standardising and deploying a software 'SARATHI' to facilitate the issue of driving licences and compile relevant data in the states and national registers. It was essential to adhere to all the mandates of the Central Motor Vehicle Act, 1988, besides ensuring the core was customised to the requirements of all states of the Indian Union. Additionally, the use of a smart card ensured stored data was protected against unauthorised access and modification.  After a national rollout, the DL has now become readable from state to state.

These initiatives should ideally have ensured higher transparency, security and reliability of operations permitting citizens to perform most RTO-related transactions from the comfort of their homes. Not only citizens, but the RTOs themselves should also have eliminated the hassles and queues faced by citizens, minimised extensive paperwork, drastically reduced the workload of RTO staff and got rid of touts and middlemen from exploiting uninformed applicants. The MoRTH portal does portray a 92% success rate, showing 13.64 crore applications received to date in total, from which 12.53 crore DLs have been issued.

But what is the reality on the ground? What does a person required to renew his/her DL in Bengaluru experience? Understandably, the SARATHI portal has simplified procedures, making it easy to record the details of the applicant, upload documents and photographs, facilitate the booking of a slot for a visit to the RTO and paying the requisite fee, all from the applicant’s home. Unfortunately, one upload or the other is constantly declared incorrect, the system loop becomes incomplete and no payment is accepted. Visiting the RTO’s office, standing in monstrous queues, submitting copies of all documents that have been uploaded before for the RTO to verify once more becomes unavoidable. After submitting the documents you qualify to stand in the payment queue to make the payment further qualifying you to stand in the photograph queue. You are required to leave behind a self-addressed envelope so that the new DL will reach you by post.

A month or two later, when your DL fails to arrive, you trudge back to the RTO, navigate the huge queues from the entrance to the RTO’s office onwards and confront the RTO himself. Extremely courteous, he rues the lack of staff, blames technical issues but miraculously produces your renewed DL.

The MoRTH needs to do a lot more to improve service access, quality and efficiency in service delivery, enhance transparency in the system and derive the benefits of reduced RTO staff workload. Why this meaningless duplication of submitting another set of uploaded documents that the RTO needs to verify once again? Why upload a photograph when you have to visit the RTO and get yourself photographed anyway? How does the DL, that did not come by post, miraculously appear when you visit the RTO? Long and unruly queues continue, although the amount of paperwork required has decreased marginally while the number of visits required has become fewer.

Astonishingly, there is a sea of difference between a DL renewal experience and a passport renewal experience. Today’s passport renewal offices show substantial improvement in their services, although you similarly apply online, get an appointment, make one visit to get all documents verified, biometrics completed and you are ready to receive your new passport in a jiffy. Why doesn’t the MoRTH take a leaf out of the MEA’s Passport Seva’s portal service?

(The writer is former Executive Director and Member, Board of Directors, BEML)

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