When 52-year-old Anthony Raj decided to do the right thing by paying the traffic penalties he had accrued, he was in for a shock.
The Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP) offering a 50-percent discount on traffic fines did fuel his decision, and he looked up the penalties he had to pay. He found that searching with his registration number threw up two violations.
“One was that I had travelled the wrong way on a one-way street, and the other was for helmetless riding — both rider and pillion. However, in the photograph of the challan, neither was the vehicle mine nor was I the rider,” he told South First.
“It was a couple riding a Honda Activa, while my two-wheeler is a Hero Super Splendor — a bike. But the registration numbers seemed to be the same,” he said.
“I took the challan and headed to the Jayanagar Traffic Police Station, which had issued it. After I explained the problem to a police officer, he directed me to go to the TMC (the Traffic Management Centre set up by the BTP to collect the penalties) and submit a complaint,” Raj added.
Registration number problem surfaces
Shockingly, he was not alone, which meant that the BTP, while collecting traffic-violation fines at a 50 percent discounted rate, has shed light on a whole new problem!
The police are now inundated with complaints of fake number plates, and are struggling to rectify the wrong entries that have already been penalised.
Some of these penalties are nearly a decade old, sources in the TMC told South First.
“Since the 50-percent discount on traffic fines started on 3 February, we received around 5,000 complaints, which include wrong entry or wrong reading of number plates, defective number plates, and forged number plates,” said Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) MN Anucheth.
“We believe around 1,000 are using forged number plates in the city and criminal action will soon ensue once we trace them,” he added.
Sources in the TMC told South First that the vehicle population in Bengaluru was around one crore, and the 1,000 vehicles meant that at least 0.01 percent of all vehicles in the city had fake registration numbers.
“A majority of the complaints reached us by email, while over 1,200 people approached us in person. For the ones we have to rectify violations, we are working on them. For the forged ones, we are flagging them as of now, and will pursue criminal action against them after they are traced. A special drive has been planned for this after 11 February — the last day of 50-percent discount on traffic fines,” Anucheth explained.
Meanwhile, the total amount of fines collected from Bengaluru from 3 February to 7 February was ₹41.2 crore, involving 14,71,593 cases of traffic violations.
Serpentine queues are visible at various traffic police stations where people are looking to settle their pending traffic dues.
TMC officials said the vehicle users could also email their complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 080-22942883.
Also read: Saleem, Anucheth roped in to clear Bengaluru’s traffic mess
Victims speak up
Rajendra, a resident of Kaggalipura, who owns a red-colour Honda Activa, was in for a shock that was similar to that of Anthony Raj.
When he looked up pending violations, the photographic evidence showed a helmetless couple riding on a grey Honda Activa that had his vehicle’s registration number.
Rajendra, too, filed a complaint with the TMC to scrap that violation against him.
A netizen named Vishwesh had a similar complaint, but they took to Twitter to air their grievance.
They tweeted: “Sir, I am getting fined repeatedly for offences caused by other bike owners on my second bike too. I have again got two fines against my Red color Activa KA-51-HH-0715, but the photo image is of a Blue Activa KA-51-HN-0715. Please remove the incorrect fine and assist. [sic]”
@blrcitytraffic Sir, I am getting fined repeatedly for offences caused by other bike owners on my second bike too. I have again got two fines against my Red color activa KA51HH0715 but the photo image is of a Blue Activa KA51HN0715. Please remove the incorrect fine and assist. pic.twitter.com/KINLx417Fe
— Vish (@vishweshps) February 7, 2023
Another netizen tweeted: “I am Kishore. My bike number is KA-01-JR-7011 that is Honda Unicorn, Here i am sharing my bike image and also RC card details… In traffic challan app fine is showing on my bike number, that is scooter and its not me and also it’s not my bike. Do needful. [sic]”
I am Kishore. My bike number is KA01JR7011that is Honda Unicorn , Here i am sharing my bike image and also RC card details… In traffic challan app fine is showing on my bike number, that is scooter and its not me and also it’s not my bike. Do needful pic.twitter.com/UB9zuoyIHf
— KISHOREKUMAR INAVOLU (@InavoluKishore) February 7, 2023
Yet another netizen, Chethan, tagged Bengaluru City Traffic Police and tweeted: “It’s observed that 5 wrong fines on my vehicle KA-41-EH-7058 Activa 3G. Please delete the wrong fines. Please refer the challan IDs [sic].”
The BTP replied to him stating he could email email@example.com for violation rectification.
Bengaluru’s Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic) MA Saleem told South First: “As there is an overwhelming response to the 50-percent discount on traffic fines, there has also been a spurt in the number of complaints regarding fake registration numbers and violation rectifications.”
He added: “For this, we have opened two-three counters on the ground floor of the TMC, where vehicle users could approach and give requisitions for violation rectification.”
What could have happened
Sources in the TMC said around 250 Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras across the city used artificial intelligence (AI) to read number plates according to the Bharat Standards.
Sometimes, due to unforeseen circumstances, certain alphabets were read wrong, sources said.
For example, The letter Y could be misread as V, or vice versa, or the AI might misread the letters H, N, and M. Sometimes, zero is confused with O, and numbers like 6, 8, and 9 were confused for each other.
A senior police officer said that sometimes a portion of the number or letter is washed away during cleaning, and the AI reads it as a different number or alphabet.
There are also motorists who approached the TMC with complaints stating that the violation photographic evidence showed a different vehicle as the vehicle number plates have been masked, broken, or were unclear.
The cops at the TMC are taking up their complaints and rectifying the violations on a case-to-case basis.
Also read: 163 Bengaluru traffic junctions to get AI-based adaptive signal system
Alarming rise in forged number plates
“Because of this initiative (50 percent discount for traffic fines), a large number of vehicle owners have approached us with complaints that someone else was using their registration number plate, and we are preparing a database of it,” said Anucheth.
“Since we have the original owners’ and their vehicles’ details and also the photographs of the other vehicles that carry the same number, we have activated our control room to pinpoint all fake registration numbers by jurisdiction and trace them,” he added.
Anucheth also said, “We can also feed in these flagged vehicle registration numbers into the ANPR camera, which uses AI technology, and they would send alerts to jurisdictional traffic police if a flagged vehicle is spotted. Moreover, our field officers who intercept and check vehicles will also have a list of these flagged vehicle numbers and can verify and trace them. Once they are traced, their owners will be charged with cheating and forgery, besides under other sections of the law.”
How to curb this?
“There are a few experts in our department who can identify a fake registration number just by glancing at the number plate,” Anil Kumar P Grampurohit, a police inspector at the TMC, told South First.
“There are certain specifications, such as the combination of the middle alphabets in a vehicle registration number, that would be assigned to only a certain group of vehicles. A tractor’s registration number combination would be different from that of two-wheeler’s combination. Similarly, an auto-rickshaw’s combination cannot be the same as those of a light motor vehicle or a heavy motor vehicle,” he explained.
“Only a few of our men are expert enough to easily spot vehicles that ply with fake and forged numbers,” said the inspector.
The police stumble upon more cases of forged vehicle registration numbers with the youths who perform wheelies and other stunts.
They are often connected with bike thieves who sell the vehicles at throwaway prices, and those vehicles ply with forged registration numbers, the police sources said.