Text by Avant Shrestha
The word ‘smart’ is a trending term in government speeches and dialogues aiming to maneuver public interest and gain public gratification. In all fairness, the stakeholders aiming to achieve such feat have not been helped whatsoever by unforeseeable hurdles which are too extensive to mention in the current context. We often hear about smart governance, smart cities and smart roads but more often than not the topic of smart driving license and its consequential issues have been part of public discourse.
Smart driving license was launched in Nepal by the Department of Transport Management in November 2015. It is a chip-embedded smart driving license that was launched with the ambition to replace the conventional paper based license.
As reported in various publications and online platforms during the initial launch of the smart driving license, the standard benefits of the said electronic smart driving license in layman’s term is that it is waterproof, does not fade, does not break and the chip in the license stores the entire history and records of the cardholder.
According to SSP Basant Kumar Pant, Chief of Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, smart license is very important. “Through the use of smart license we can record details about the commuters in our database so that when a traffic police checks the commuter’s license, we have the entire history of the individual. This is done for the good and the safety of the people,” Pant explains.
The smart driving license is expected to prevent forgery and enhance systemic revenue collection. The smart license has the technicality to completely eradicate the option for commuters or criminals to possess fake licenses. “Smart licensing system will drastically reduce the chance of vehicular theft. Those who regularly do not follow traffic rules and risk the wellbeing of other commuters can be easily apprehended and fined,” claims Pant.
The grant for the project was funded by Asian Development Bank as a part of their Information and Communication Technology Development initiative to improve delivery of various government services through ICT network. The license is reported to be linked to a centralised system with biometric data. Furthermore, during the initial launch of the smart license in 2015, the DoTM (governing body responsible for issuing driving license) had targeted to convert all existing driving licenses to new smart driving licenses within three to five years. However, due to a number of technical and operational issues there has been hindrance in meeting the target within the stipulated time frame.
Unlike conventional paper-based driving licenses, smart digital driving licenses incorporate electronic chips that are similar to the chips of SIM cards and contain information about the driver’s identity and his records. Individuals who have completed and passed the written exam for acquiring a driving license and successfully completed the trial exam are eligible to receive the smart card.
As of late 2018 and early 2019, over 200,000 applicants are still waiting for their smart driving license. As reported in a national daily early in the year, the number of applicants who have passed the examination administered by Transport Management Office for smart driving card and have also paid the required fees has reached over 550,000 people. The number is inclusive of all applicants since the office started issuing license four years ago. Among them, 354,000 have received their license while licenses of more than 200,000 people are yet to be printed.
When a quick survey was done among multiple commuters who are awaiting their digital licenses, most claimed that they have been waiting for over six to nine months. And they have been driving their vehicles and presenting their supposedly driving permits in the form of the receipt they received after paying the office for the driving license.
Raghubir Mahaseth, Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, acknowledges the current problems regarding smart license. He addresses the situation by saying, “We were capable of managing it phase wise. But in today’s scenario, there is a very big demand. However 400,000 people have already received their smart driving license.”
It was reported that the office of the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) was not able to print adequate number of smart driving licenses because of the low capacity of the printer. As a result those waiting for their licenses are frustrated and disgruntled and those who already received their smart licenses claim that the card is not of good quality.
It is puzzling why the Nepal government decided to outsource the printing work. In their defense DoTM claims that due to lack of proper printing equipment and capability, the department had to publish a tender notice for the supply of smart cards and smart card printing machines. The task for printing and supplying smart cards was given to an Indian printing company. And again in 2017, Madras Security Printers, an Indian printing company had agreed to supply additional 750,000 smart cards at Rs. 100 per card and three printing machines at $980,000.
To mitigate this issue, DoTM has started the process of purchasing a ‘mass printer’ in a bid to ease the process of printing smart driving licenses. Minister Mahaseth states, “There is a lot of pending backlog and we are aiming to clear it. We have added four new machines and there shall be one more machine added that will print 600-800 licenses in an hour. We plan to manage and distribute licenses within 24 hours of submission of application to the public in the very near future,” he adds.
License Status Online
In an attempt to go digital, recently DoTM had initiated a digital system to inform citizens awaiting their digital licenses about the results of their test or trails and information on their smart card print status through the medium of an SMS. Prior to the launch of the SMS service, people awaiting the results had to visit DoTM office to see the results and physically receive the information on the license’s print status. This was a major inconvenience for people.
People can receive the information by sending an SMS to 33001. Additionally, to check result for written test, users have to type ‘WT [Application ID number]’ and Send it to 33001. Similarly, to check smart driving license print status, users have to type ‘LC [Application ID Number]’ and send it to 33001.
Is the Smart License Smart Enough?
The embedded chip in the card contains all the necessary and relevant information of the cardholder. This does seem to be a novel and efficient step that is being taken to transfer the bureaucratic system from paper to digital. However, there are major hurdles that need to be swiftly addressed.
For example, there are major problems with the chip and there have been reports that the embedded chip in the card can easily come off. There have been complaints from license holders that they have already lost the chip in their card. Additionally, many drivers who possess the license have expressed that the smart license they have received is made of substandard material and the ink and lettering fade within a short period.
Furthermore, though the smart license is designed to keep detailed information of the license holders and his/her traffic records stored in the chip, it has not come in use so far. The centralised system with biometric data was designed to save time, increase efficiency during license checks and processing procedures. Plus, it was also supposed to assist the government to provide a secure system, efficient data management and to reduce fraudulent practices and systematic revenue collection. However, it has not panned out as planned.
What was supposed to help the traffic police to easily read and view the history of commuters while checking their licenses, is causing traffic police more trouble. For starters, the smart card driving license has been creating unnecessary problems to traffic police due to the absence of reading machines. Most of the processing is still done by paperor manually. The smart card is a good initiative to move into the digital landscape but its digital utility has not been put into use. In fact, during his interview to one of the national newspapers, the DoTM spokesperson informed that they only had one smart license reading machine which was being used only for demonstration.
The troubles of the traffic police do not end there. When it comes to drivers who drink and drive, the police used to punch holes in the paper-based license. However, in case of smart license card, the traffic police can neither keep records nor can they punch a hole in it.
Additionally, there are technical errors in the card; more specifically, there seems to be undefined categories on licenses. The citizens are issued only no-professional license for both professional and non-professional drivers. This does not seem to be much of an issue within the country; however, smart license holders who are trying for foreign employment opportunities as professional drivers are facing problems because their license specifies them as non-professional drivers.
The DoTM has taken initiatives to deal with the reported errors with smart cards in the future and is looking to upgrade its software in order to provide internet-based services to its customers.
Four years after the smart license was launched, questions can be raised about the lingering problems that are still evident today. Why is it taking so much time? Why didn’t we foresee these problems and most importantly, why weren’t we prepared to solve these problems?
Smart license is a must and in this time and the near future implementation and integration of smart license is a must. However, as we stand and suffer through this transactional phase from paper to digital, it is difficult to see the logic behind the not so thought out execution of the smart driving license.