Anguish, Anger in Kashmir Over Mass Detention of Non-JK Number Vehicles

Cop implementing new RTO order in Srinagar. KO Pictures by Abid Bhat.

Almost passed in a huff, an RTO order seeking mandatory JK number plates and additional tax has created a new chaos and confusion in Kashmir where many are calling it a discriminatory move.

AMONG 500 vehicles, reportedly seized within last five days across Kashmir, is a car of a Kashmiri trader on a home visit.

He frothed from his mouth as he turned up along with distressed dozens in the office of Regional Transport Officer (RTO).

“This is a sheer discrimination against us Kashmiris,” said Showkat Ahmad, a Kashmiri handicraft trader in Delhi. “They just need a pretext to do these inhuman experiments on us every now and then. This mass detention of cars is yet another move to cripple Kashmir.”

Ire stemmed from the surging vehicle owners—standing in the restive queue to re-register their seized vehicles.

The residential-style RTO office became a packed house after a circular came from its top executive recently — directing all vehicle owners with outside registration mark to apply for a new registration.

“The owners of such vehicles have been asked to submit the relevant documents of their vehicle to the transport office within a period of 15 days of the circular failing which action warranted shall be initiated against them,” the order reads, a copy of which lies with Kashmir Observer.

Almost implemented on a war-footing, many in Kashmir believe that there was a clear security directive behind the move.

A top official in the RTO office confirmed that the circular cropped up due to security issues.

“The order came from the Chief Secretary’s office and it asked police and our RTO department to do the needful,” the official said.

But RTO Kashmir, Ikramullah Tak, the talk of the town at the moment, denied any security angle behind the order.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kashmir Vijay Kumar, however, told reporters on March 30 that few vehicles seized recently were used by militants to carry out attacks on security forces, including the one used for Lawaypora attack.

“That’s why RTO has issued an order making it mandatory for vehicles with outside registration to register the same within 15 days,” IGP Kumar said.

Police checks document of vehicle brought from outside.

Once the circular came, South Kashmir’s Anantnag district became one of the first districts to implement it.

“Four days ago, on my way to office, I was stopped at a checkpoint, and my Scorpio vehicle bearing New Delhi registration number was seized,” said Hilal Bhat, a resident of Anantnag’s Mattan area.

“The RC (Registration Certificate) was transferred in my name. I had license and other relevant documents too, but the vehicle was still seized by the cops.”

Bhat approached a local court and secured the vehicle release.

“But,” he said, “the police are yet to entertain the court order.”

Apart from commoners, the car parlours selling the non-JK number plate vehicles are also feeling the heat due to the mandatory re-registration and 9 per cent tax clause.

“If a person has registered his vehicle outside J&K and has submitted the tax, why does he need to submit it here again?” said Uzair Khan, who heads the Car Deals Association, Karan Nagar.

“Isn’t this administration only defying One Nation-One Tax rule with this order?”

Even Kashmiri trade bodies are baffled. Amid the outcry, they too hit the road against the order.

“The authorities must revoke this arbitrary order as this is total injustice with the vehicle owners and also with the dealers as they now have to pay the tax amount twice at the rate of 9 per cent,” said Ajaz Shahdhar, member of Kashmir Trade Alliance (KTA), who led a protest against the order in Srinagar on March 31.

At the time of buying a vehicle, a customer pays 9 per cent tax for lifetime, Shahdhar said. “Now demanding another 9 per cent from a second buyer is total injustice.”

But despite drawing raging flak, RTO Tak is sounding terse and tough.

“If the owner of the vehicle has paid tax in Delhi,” Tak said, “he/she has to pay it again, if a vehicle is transferred to another state or union territory.”

His junior, ARTO Sheikh Manzoor, said he can’t comment on why the government implemented the order suddenly and on a short notice, “but I must say the law was there and people weren’t obeying it”.

The purchase of the non-local vehicle has to get NOC from the concerned ARTO, and it’s valid for six months, he said. “Now if you don’t re-register your vehicle in 6 months, whose fault is this?”

But if a person has purchased the vehicle outside J&K on his own name and address and he comes to Kashmir along with the vehicle, he needs not to worry, ARTO Manzoor said. “However, if he decides to stay in Kashmir he has to re-register it.”

Amid anger and anguish, the government has given 15-day time period for all vehicles with non-JK number plates for re-registration.

However, car dealer Uzair said the given time is too less.

“People are in panic mode because police don’t ask for documents,” he said. “They just seize the car on the spot even if you have all the papers.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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