Emboss to show who is boss

In the past few weeks a lot has been written and spoken about the government’s decision regarding fast tracking the conversion of all vehicle license plates into camera readable computerised ones.

True, license plates need to be modernised, allowing GPS tracking of stolen or smuggled cars. There is a lot of discussion about the utility of such number plates when Nepal does not yet have the infrastructure to make them functional. However, I am more concerned about the fonts. Why should the alphabets and numerical be in Roman, and not Devnagari?

Read also: Embossed plate company involved in scam, Ramesh Kumar

The writ submitted to the Supreme Court in 2018 pointed out that Nepal’s Constitution stipulates: ‘The Nepali language in the Devanagari script shall be the official language of Nepal.’ So why are we using Roman fonts? That decision was quashed by the court in 2019, but there is every reason to try to reverse that decision.   

The Supreme Court verdict provided a convoluted interpretation of the term ‘language’, citing examples of official documents like passports, identification cards, diplomatic correspondence, international bids that are in English. There is an argument that the Bhutan Bangladesh India Nepal (BBIN) road transport agreement would necessitate license plates with English alphabets.

The argument that the Nepali script is not camera-readable or trackable is also absurd because there are devices in use that can read any script from the Subcontinent.

The Supreme Court’s decision states that embossed numbers plates have multidimensional utility like ‘making transportation system more scientific, providing security, controlling theft and smuggling, as well as simplifying tax collection…’

We all know that. Nobody is saying we do not need to convert to embossed number plates. But there is no convincing argument against using Nepali fonts on embossed plates.

Nepali plates would be simple and understandable for all Nepalis, and more so for the traffic police to make the transportation system safer.

Say someone is hit by a motorcycle, it would be easier for the injured person to read the Nepali number plate and then report it to the police. And as long as the police do not have tracking devices, or there are sufficient RFID tracking gates across the country, they will have to continue to use their traditional oral way of reporting vehicles. It would just be much easier for police to read and report Nepali numbers rather than English ones.

Was the traffic police office ever consulted when the decision about embossed number plates was made? If they had, I am sure they would have said: “Stick to Nepali.”

The government had another ridiculous reason for changing to English plates – it would make it easier for foreign tourists! Why are a few hundred thousand tourists prioritised over 30 million Nepalis? Visitors to Nepal will not be deterred by the vehicle license plates here being in Nepali. If that was the case, there would be no tourists visiting Egypt where other than the country name, the number plates have Arabic numericals and alphabets. (see  photo)

Until the names of all seven provinces are decided, until there are smart gates capable of electronically reading digital plates, across the country, and not just Kathmandu Valley, the government should be in no hurry to switch. Instead, it should use the time to designing Devanagari plates. 

We should not compound mistakes of the past by making another blunder. Officials say that the money already invested to introduce embossed plates will be wasted. But that will be nothing in terms of the losses the country will suffer in future if plates are not in Nepali.  

Once the government makes and starts distributing embossed plates in Nepali, I will proudly change the license plate on my car. Till then, I won’t.

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