Moving against what she calls the “unethical and illegal” practice of registration of luxury vehicles in Puducherry by owners who are not residents of the Union Territory, Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi has ordered a probe, saying the rich and famous have been forging local addresses for registration of vehicles “worth crores” to “save a few lakhs” in road tax. And in the line of fire are celebrities and politicians including Malayalam film actor-turned politician Suresh Gopi, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member, and Amala Paul who, official sources said, got their vehicles registered in Puducherry using local addresses.
Bedi, who conducted an inspection at the transport department a day earlier, told The Indian Express that up to 80-90 such vehicle registrations were being done in Puducherry on daily basis. She said “this unethical and illegal acts help celebrities save up to 15 per cent tax in registration”. She said a loophole in the law helps vehicle owners get away with road tax that they should actually be paying in their home states.
“The rule says that if you are staying for more than six months in a place, you should be paying the road tax there. But in Puducherry’s corrupt system run by a network of car dealers and brokers and officials, all that you need is a letter from a notary to buy an LIC policy which is then used as temporary address proof to register your vehicle. It’s high time LIC changes its rules. They should be insisting on a passport or Aadhaar card for LIC policies. I have also asked the Law Secretary here to probe 86 people with notary licences in Puducherry. Rich people, including politicians and celebrities, are misusing this to save a few lakhs for their cars worth crores of rupees,” she said.
Puducherry Transport Minister M O H F Shahjahan denied reports of alleged illegalities in vehicle registration. But Bedi said Shahjahan himself is a car-seller “who inherited his father’s business in Puducherry”. She said “he probably may be losing business if we prevent non-residents from registering their vehicles here”.
Sources said Suresh Gopi got an Audi Q7 registered in Puducherry, paying a road tax of around Rs 1 lakh. He would have paid around Rs 15 lakh in Kerala where he is a permanent resident. There were documents, sources said, to show that Gopi gave a Puducherry address — Karthik Apartments, 100 Feet Road, Ellaipillaichavady, Puducherry.
The Indian Express called Gopi for comments but a person who answered the phone said the number did not belong to him. Earlier, speaking to Malayalam mediapersons, Gopi said he would respond, if required, to the authorities concerned. Actor Paul, sources said, bought a Mercedes Benz car worth around Rs 1.12 crore from Karnataka. She was said to have saved around Rs 20 lakh by getting it registered in Puducherry. She was not available for comment Wednesday but she posted a photo on Facebook with a note. It said she needed to run away from the craziness of city life and needless speculation. “For now I am preferring a boat ride, at least no allegations of breaking the law or should I double check with my ‘well wishers’,” Paul wrote.
Meanwhile, Kerala Transport Commissioner Anil Kant has written to his Puducherry counterpart, S D Sundaresan, seeking urgent action against those who evade road tax in their home states. Calling such acts “illegal” and a “threat to national security,” Kant’s letter said such registrations in Puducherry, using fake addresses, were being done to evade tax and “escape from other offences such as violation of traffic rules, overspeed and other punishable activities”.
Bedi, on her part, maintained Puducherry was not losing money. “But see, a particular flaw in the system and those who misuse it are actually polluting my system, my entire transport department. A notary licence is not to certify a false address for someone. Being silent on this issue will mean I am encouraging falsehood,” she said.
“Not just actors and politicians, many luxury buses from other states are also being registered in Puducherry while running no service here. It was Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who alerted me about his state losing huge revenue due to this. I have asked him for more details for further action,” she said.