Nearly 25 years later, Singh was back at the Chandigarh licensing authority, this time at an auction for ‘vanity’ registration numbers held every three months by the transport department. He bought a licence plate worth Rs 18 lakh for his brand new Landcruiser SUV. “All my cars and cell phone numbers bear the ‘001’ digits. I could not let go of it, even if it cost a fortune,” says the proud agriculturist-entrepreneur.
Chahel is not alone in his ‘passion’ for expensive VIP registration numbers. The revenue generated by the Chandigarh Registration and Licence Authority (CRLA) has climbed from Rs 6.8 crore in 2010 to a whopping Rs 44.6 crore in 2011. This is courtesy the race among rich businessmen, farmers and even retired bureaucrats for special VIP numbers like ‘0001’, ‘0007’ or (believe it or not) ‘AK-47’.
Chandigarh resident Narinder Singh Shergill was the first in the city to break the Rs 10 lakh barrier to get 0001 in May 2010, when the state started auctioning these numbers. It cost him half the price of his Toyota Fortuner SUV. According to CRLA officials, during the auction for the series CH 01 AK, the number 0047, which was priced at Rs 10,000, sold for Rs 3.1 lakh. Quite ironically, the AK-47 number was picked up by a religious sect for a luxury car. Retired IAS officer SPS Rathore, accused of molesting a teenage girl and later driving her to suicide, too created a stir in April this year when he bought a registration number worth Rs 9 lakh for his wife.
While 0001 has a reserve price of Rs 25,000, the numbers from 0002 till 0011 have a reserve price of Rs 15,000, and numbers from 0012 to 0030 cost at least Rs 10,000. But the fad is not limited to people in Chandigarh. The rich in Delhi too head to Chandigarh or Punjab for vanity numbers as the capital stopped auctioning numbers five years ago. While only politicians and bureaucrats are allowed VIP numbers, they can recommend their relatives for it. “You either need to have connections or go through a tout. I drove to Punjab to get a vanity number for my Mercedes,” says a Delhi-based businessman. “It is part of being ‘in’ these days,” he says, requesting anonymity.