The long wait for smart driving licences is going to end as the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has started readying the necessary equipment.
A technical worker from Madras Security Printer, an Indian company that received the work order to print the licence cards, has arrived in Bangladesh and began installing printers and the data centre on Tuesday, said BRTA spokesperson Mahbub-e-Rabbani.
Two more engineers will come within the next few days to join him, Rabbani said, adding that after completing the equipment installation, they will work on the software before finally starting to print the smart driving cards.
The project of providing the licences has been stuck for around two years because of tender complications.
"We are in the final stage and hope the printing of smart driving licences will start at the end of January," said BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder.
Around 80% of the equipment, including printing machines and the data centre, arrived last week and the rest will come soon, he added.
Meanwhile, the number of applications for the smart cards is increasing by more than 2,000 each day, the BRTA estimates.
Currently, more than 8.19 lakh applications are pending; it was 6 lakh till September 2020.
The deadlock in the smart driving licence project developed in 2018 after the BRTA failed to extend a deal with contractor Tiger IT because the company was blacklisted by the World Bank.
The BRTA had signed the deal with Tiger IT in 2016 to produce 15 lakh cards by 2022. Due to a large rise in demand, most of the cards had to be printed and distributed by 2018.
So, the BRTA started searching for another company and the search ate up one and a half years to find Madras Security Printer.
For producing smart licence cards, the BRTA floated a tender on 10 June 2019, which was later revised four times – on 21 July, 28 July, 8 August, and 28 August.
Finally, it cancelled the notice and again floated a fresh tender on 20 January 2020.
The French company SELP was the lowest bidder for that tender, but Madras Security Printer pointed out some irregularities in SELP's application. So, the tender was cancelled again.
Madras Security Printer came up with the lowest bid in a fresh tender and got the work order on 29 July 2020.
It has a contract for making 40 lakh smart cards in the next five years.
The BRTA is now issuing a limited number of smart licences – around 100 a month – after evaluating applicants' urgency, said a BRTA official wishing to remain unnamed.
Drivers are also given temporary approval, which has to be extended upon expiration.
According to an insider, Madras Security Printer will be able to print 8,000 cards each day in its normal working hours but if required it will work round the clock.
"The BRTA had earlier said the crisis over the smart licences would be solved by December 2020, but now we think it might take up to December this year," Mahbub-e-Rabbani told The Business Standard.
Madras Security Printer was scheduled to send the first consignment of 20,000 cards by December 2020, but that deadline could not be met as the equipment was stuck at the Benapole Port "for some unknown reasons," said Mahbub-E-Rabbani.
Madras Security Printer will also set up a data centre and server, develop the software and provide all kinds of services, including online and network connectivity, data centre, server and storage maintenance, and informing applicants through text messages when their cards are ready – until it hands over the project to the BRTA in five years, he added.
Insiders said Madras Security Printer will set up a server at Mirpur 12 in a rented 15,000 square feet space, and from there it may provide full technical support.
They said Madras Security will provide 9 lakh cards in the first year, 7 lakh the following year and 7.5 lakh, 8 lakh and 8.5 lakh cards in the next three years, respectively.
The BRTA started issuing digital smart driving licences in October 2011 and has issued around 28.70 lakh cards so far.