MUMBAI: What does an erring motorist do when the traffic police constable confiscates his/her licence? Pay the fine and retrieve the licence from the traffic police headquarters at Worli, most would say.

However, the Mumbai traffic police found that this is not how most offenders react. In the last one year alone, around 1.25 lakh motorists flouting rules have not bothered to collect their driving licences back, a senior traffic police officer revealed on condition of anonymity.

This implies that these motorists have either given up driving or simply gone and got themselves a duplicate licence on the sly.

The racket where duplicate licences are illegally purchased through touts within a week for as less as Rs 400 by submitting a photocopy of the original licence was exposed by TOI in its edition dated March 6. The Motor Vehicles Act clearly states that traffic offenders have to pay the penalty and collect the licence from the authorities before driving their vehicles again.

The case of Ramachandra Thorat is a typical example. He was caught near Mahalaxmi for a traffic offence though his licence was suspended last year.

"When we checked with the regional transport office (RTO), Tardeo, they informed us that Thorat was issued 10 duplicate licences," said a traffic police official. Prasad Mahajan, the regional transport officer (Tardeo), says there is nothing illegal in issuing duplicate licences.

"We can hold back a duplicate licence only if the traffic police intimates us that the person has committed an offence. It takes a fortnight for the intimation to arrive by which time the offender may have already got a duplicate licence," he said.

Mahajan added that the department, in association with the traffic police, was devising a system to plug this loophole.

However, the vindictive manner in which the RTO has treated the person who was instrumental in exposing the racket does not inspire much confidence in them. TOI had used RTI activist Chetan Kothari's driving licence to show that a duplicate licence could be procured merely by paying Rs 600 to a motor training school. Kothari was issued a duplicate licence by the Tardeo RTO on the basis of just a photocopy of his expired licence submitted by Lucky motor training school at Dongri.

Kothari's medical certificate attached with the application had several anomalies and yet overlooking these factors he was issued a duplicate licence. Instead of cleaning up the dirt within the department, the RTO last week suspended Kothari's licence for a year.

As reported by Viju B of TNN on on 25 March 2008: