Explainer: The real story behind abandoned vehicles in Mumbai

Thousands of abandoned vehicles have led Mumbai police to launch a ‘Khatara Hatao’ campaign. But what else can owners do with end-of-life vehicles?

Between March 6th and April 16th, the Mumbai police started a drive to clear streets of abandoned vehicles, an issue that has caused nuisance across the city. Known as the Khatara Hatao campaign, they seized about 10,496 vehicles, as per information shared by the Mumbai police commissioner Sanjay Pandey on his Twitter handle.

As part of this drive, the Mumbai police tows away abandoned vehicles to a dump yard and sends notices to the vehicle’s registered owners asking them to claim them back within a month, failing which the vehicles would be auctioned. “Most of these abandoned vehicles are in such a bad state that the auction money recovered is negligible. However, the purpose behind this exercise is not to earn revenue but to have clean and safe streets in Mumbai,” says a traffic police inspector. 

The rise in abandoned vehicles in Mumbai’s 2000 km road network, especially on internal roads, takes up precious road space and opens up scope for criminal activity. It also has adverse implications for citizens’ health, since many vehicles become breeding grounds for mosquitos. 

Read more: Mumbai has less green than what masterplan shows: just 1 sq m per person

Officials like Maharashtra’s transport commissioner Avinash Dhakne believe that the official Vehicle Scrapping Policy, once formalised and implemented, should reduce the incidence of abandonment. “The draft rules of the policy mention plans for an official scrapyard complete with agencies to handle the entire scrapping paperwork and procedures. Currently, one of the problems plaguing vehicle owners is the lack of clarity and absence of mechanisms in place for the handling of the scrapping process of a vehicle,” says Wali Kashviv, co-founder of Parkr, a digital parking start-up. 

But to assess what would actually deter vehicle owners from abandoning their cars, we need to first look at why this is so rampant.

Why do people just dump their vehicles on roads?

Since there is no formal mechanism to handle an End-of-Life-Vehicle (ELV), vehicles that are past their prime, being too old for use, get dumped on the roads. This is equally true for vehicles that are rendered useless due to accidents or excessive repairs. 

Investing further in vehicles that bring them no value is perceived as a waste of time and resources, and hence people prefer to just discard vehicles on streets rather than formally scrapping them. The latter calls for a long process (explained below) and completion of various formalities. 

an abandoned vehicle on a road in mumbai
Citizens find it easier to dump vehicles on roads instead of formally selling them for scrap. Pic credit – Hepzi Anthony

Besides, prevailing informal restrictions on buying scrap cars also add to the cars being abandoned. Retaining and maintaining old vehicles could be a costly proposition thus leading people to dump them on the streets.

Recently, the government increased both taxes on vehicle re-registration and the frequency with which owners must obtain fitness certifications, to deter people from holding on to old vehicles. 

Scrap dealers refuse to buy vehicles abandoned without due process, for fear of being accused of theft or criminal action by the police. There are instances when criminals steal vehicles to commit a crime and then choose to abandon them in a completely different suburb. This makes scrap dealers wary of buying abandoned vehicles, according to a senior police officer who did not want to be quoted.

What can an owner do, if not abandon a vehicle that cannot be used any more?

The formal and recommended way to deal with such a vehicle is to have it legally scrapped.  This entails having your vehicle registration officially cancelled by the Regional Transport Office (RTO) and once that procedure is completed, taking it to a scrap vehicle dealer for disposal.

Unless a vehicle is formally notified for scrapping, the RTO will continue to levy green tax and/or penalties on it, even if the owner abandons it. (All vehicles that extend or renew the registration beyond 15 years attract a green tax). The interest on pending dues keep adding up, explains Maharashtra’s transport commissioner Avinash Dhakne. 

An abandoned vehicle also tends to accrue additional tax burden till such time that the registrations of the vehicle is not formally cancelled. 

How can you de-register or cancel your vehicle registration?

An owner is allowed to scrap his vehicle only after obtaining official permission to cancel his vehicle registration and going through that process. According to Section 55 of the Motor Vehicles Rules 1989, the registration of the motor vehicle is cancelled if the vehicle has been destroyed, has been rendered permanently incapable of use, is in a condition that would cause danger to the public or beyond reasonable repair. 

One can apply for cancellation/surrender of vehicle registration under the provisions of Section 55 (i) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 at the local divisional RTO office. Earlier, an application could be made on paper, but now the entire process is available online.

Why is it important to surrender your vehicle registration before scrapping?

It is very important to complete the cancellation of vehicle registration before you scrap it. This is to ensure that your vehicle does not attract any motor vehicle taxes or penalties, as explained above. 

Cancellation of registration also grants protection from misuse of the vehicle or its registration number by criminal elements.

What are the prerequisites for the cancellation of vehicle registration?

To be eligible to de-register your vehicle, you must ensure that your vehicle loans are paid off and there are no pending tax liabilities. Also, there should not be any pending cases on the vehicle, such as involvements in accidents or disputes of vehicle ownership.

Shahid Mansuri, a scrap vehicle dealer, says that those who deal in scrapped vehicles (to eventually dismantle and sell off parts) only check the Registration Certificate (RC) book to check if there are any outstanding vehicle loans. The identity proof of the owner is also important, as only an owner is authorised to sell a vehicle. “Handling all the relevant paperwork formalities with the authorities is the owner’s prerogative, not ours,” he adds.

Why is the scrapping of vehicles not as simple as it sounds?

A transport department official admitted that de-registration procedures tend to be time-consuming and slow, thus discouraging people from officially scrapping vehicles. The draft Vehicle Scrappage policy has proposed that no-tax dues certification should be issued to vehicles within six days of seeking permission to scrap, failing which the vehicles would be considered free of tax dues and automatically cleared to be scrapped.

Another reason is that vehicle owners tend to perceive clearing up pending tax dues of old/repaired vehicles as a waste of money. The repairing costs of vehicles at times are so high that people prefer to dump vehicles on internal roads. 

Vehicles involved in accidents or long-drawn court cases also tend to be just parked in police dumpyards for years, without proper closure. 

How are vehicles scrapped? Is it environmentally friendly?

Shahid Mansuri explains the process they usually follow, saying that he dismantles the vehicles that he purchases for scrap and then sells them to different recyclers. Tyres and glass are sold to those who handle rubber recycling while metals are sold for melting to metal recyclers. 

The draft of the scrappage policy proposes scrapping by dismantling, shearing, shredding, recovery or disposal of shredder waste by following detailed guidelines on ‘End of Life Vehicle (ELV) management’ as brought out by the Central Pollution Control Board. 

According to the CPCB guidelines, once a vehicle is de-registered and declared an ELV, it could go through different stages of treatment, that involve depollution by removing or draining all hazardous components and liquids; dismantling of reusable and recyclable parts; shredding of car hulks and recycling of ferrous metal parts; as well as separation and recycling or disposal of automotive shredder residue. The recycled and recovered material may go back to manufacturing units or the second-hand market.

Also read:

This explainer is part of a series on ‘Explainers and Information Resources for Mumbaikars’ supported by a grant from the A.T.E. Chandra Foundation.

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