Pune, September 22 * June 18, 2007. State Marketing Minister Harshvardhan Patil’s letter to the Regional Transport Office (RTO), Pune: “I recommend the number 100 be given to the Scorpio jeep of Ramesh Vishnupanth Khandve of Lohegaon.”

Such letters — from the offices of ministers, MPs and MLAs — keep pouring into the RTO office here. All with one-point agenda: allocation of fancy numbers to vehicles owned by their acquaintances.

On April 9, Avinash Sali, personal assistant to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh wrote to the RTO, recommending that either 999 or 100 be given to the new car purchased by Navnath Bhau Vaswand. On September 13, it was the turn of Vinayak Parab, private resident secretary to the chief minister to write to the RTO seeking a similar favour for Sachin Bhalinge of Umaji Agritech.

Not to be left behind was State Forest Minister Babanrao Pachpute. In his letter dated April 18, 2007 has recommended 99, 999 or 9000 to Bhonsale Dnyaneshwar Narayan, a resident of Wagholi for his new Scorpio. The minister asked the RTO for allotment of 99 on top priority.

Among the prized registration numbers are 99, 100, 999, 007 and making recommendations are ministers MPs and MLAs, with offices of the CM also getting involved. The result: many of these numbers are never available to those willing to pay for it, but have no one to recommend their case.

Curiously, the RTO records of applicants for these fancy numbers are only those who back their case with VIP recommendations as found out by RTI activists Shahid Raza Burney and Kamlesh Memane. According to sources, these choice numbers command a price as high as Rs 50,000 as against the government-designated fee of Rs 10,000.

“There is a high degree of corruption in the allocation of choice numbers. The RTO authorities are not following the mandatory and stipulated rules; neither do they keep records of allocations made,” Burney said.

Papers relating to allotment and rejection of application for choice numbers were found missing from the records. Burney, who sought detailed inspection of the application forms of the allotted choice numbers from 2003 to 2007, was told they were missing.

When contacted, deputy RTO Amar Patil said: “We will correct the system after due consultations. A fool-proof system will be put in place soon for the allotment of choice numbers.”

According to Burney, Patil and assistant RTO Bhaskar Rao Gunjal were present during the inspection that found papers relating to the “choice numbers” missing from files. At that time, it was also found that choice numbers from two-wheeler series were allotted to four wheelers, Burney added.

The inspection also revealed that RTO officials had delegated the powers for allotment of choice number to stenographer and personal assistant to RTO Uttam Urankar in contravention of rules and regulations. Burney has written to Home Minister RR Patil demanding an inquiry into the going-ons at the Pune RTO.

Thus, for the likes of Fayyaz Ashpaque Qazi who has nobody `high-up` to recommend his case, there’s a reason to feel aggrieved. “Time and again Urankar has said that the number will be allotted when the series open. As of now more than 10 series have been opened and I have still not got the number,” Qazi said.

Meanwhile, the inspection revealed that despite a State Government notification making it mandatory for the RTO to regularly insert advertisements in newspapers about the availability of choice numbers, no such procedure was followed.

Look, what Minister told RTO: I recommend the number 100...