|Image via Dawn|
Last week the DIG Traffic Sindh warned drivers that they will be arrested and jailed if they were found driving without a valid licence after November 1st, a week-long grace period was offered to drivers and private vehicle owners to obtain licences and get them renewed. Regardless of the fact that the geniuses in charge of traffic have let this slide for decades, it's much more important to ascertain whether or not they really do have the power to jail someone for driving without a valid licence, when there already exists a penalty in the traffic code for this particular violation.
Dr Amir Ahmed Sheikh, the esteemed DIG-Traffic, has claimed that there is a provision in the Motor Vehicle Ordinance which empowers the traffic police to send such violators to jail, without going to specifics about the description and duration of imprisonment. Citizens can not merely be scared into submission with the vague possibility of jail time for something that hasn't been proscribed as an cognizable offence, for argument's sake even if we consider that a person can be jailed for driving without a licence there's nothing stopping them from being bailed out.
There is no ambiguity in the law though, section 3 of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance (as amended by Provincial Motor Vehicles Amendment Ordinance, 1978) titled Prohibition of driving without licence states:
No person shall drive a Motor Vehicle in any public place unless he holds an effective licence authorising him to drive the vehicle ; and no person shall so drive a Motor Vehicle as paid employee or shall so drive a public service vehicle unless his licence specially entitles him so to do.
What if you do have a driving licence but just don't have it on you at that point in time, would you be jailed for that? section 90 begs to differ.
(1) The driver of a motor vehicle in any public place shall, on demand by say police officer in uniform, or any officer of the Transport Department not below the rank of Sub-Inspector, on production if so required of his authority, produce his licence and the certificate of registration of the vehicle...
(2) The owner of a motor vehicle, or in his absence the driver of other person in charge of the vehicle, shall on demand by a registering authority or any person authorised in this behalf by Government, produce the certificate of registration of the vehicle...
(3) If the licenses or certificates, as the case may be, are not at the time in the possession of the person to whom demand is made, it shall be a sufficient compliance with this section if such person produces the licence or certificates within ten days at any police station in the Province which he specifies to the officer or authority making the demand.
The word imprisonment is mentioned 19 times in this ordinance, for example if a vehicle has been used in the commission of a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment of not less than five years the vehicle's registration will be suspended, it doesn't have anything to do with being jailed for driving without a licence. A citizen can be imprisoned for fabrication of registration plate (section 97A), driving recklessly or dangerously (section 99), driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (section 100), racing or trials of speed (section 103), using vehicle in unsafe condition (section 104), using commercial vehicle without permit in contravention of sub-section (I) of section 44 (section 106), penalty for failing to stop in case of accident (section 108), taking vehicle without authority (section 109) and unauthorised interference with vehicle (section 110).
So the question must be asked, under what legal grounds will the traffic police arrest and jail a driver that's driving without a licence when the best they can do is write up a challan for Rs. 500, which automatically indemnifies the driver against further challans for a fortnight.
Many are still clueless as to what has prodded the sleeping giant of Sindh Traffic Police out of its slumber, and whether the department is in a position to enforce rules when it is corrupt to its very core, one can't help but wonder if this is a money-making scheme. I have been driving in Karachi for more than a decade and have been pulled over multiple times either for violations like not obeying traffic signals, driving without a licence (!) and having tinted glasses (which technically the traffic police shouldn't be concerned with). Never, not once, has the gentleman ever written up a challan even though I repeatedly tell them to do so. It always comes down to money, after all, paying Rs. 300 to get out of a Rs. 500 challan makes sense to most people.
Then there's the life changing experience of going to get your driver's licence. My first visit to the Clifton traffic section for a learner's licence a few years back involved being told straight up by the gentleman I had approached to get information that I could pay him Rs. 1000 to get it in 30 minutes or I could try all day to get it made by myself. Don't pat yourself on the back if you've escaped the clutches of "agents" loitering outside that promise to get everything done within minutes, chances are you'll be asked to pay more to the lovely government employees inside.
The going rate for a permanent driver's licence these days ranges from Rs. 3000 to Rs. 3500 when the actual fees is Rs. 1800 and Rs. 200 for the "medical checkup." At least in the Clifton traffic section don't expect to be a good citizen and get it done on your own if you're so opposed to corruption, they're going to test you (they don't test people who pay) and you'll be failed no matter how many times you try. I speak from experience.
I can only imagine what they must be charging right now as thousands of frightened citizens flock to their local traffic sections just because they fear spending a night in jail for something they can't even be jailed for. Do you really expect a Sindh Traffic Police cop to haul a violator to the police station, do all the paperwork and lock them up while he can easily extort a few hundred rupees more than usual?
I look forward to being pulled over again.