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Helpful characters with sinister agendas

Updated February 22, 2016


The word ‘tout’ simply means “to try to persuade people that someone or something is important or valuable by praising them/it,” according to the Oxford Learners’ Dictionary. But it has a sinister ring about it in our society.

We are more familiar with the image the mention of the word throws up in our mind of helpful but shady characters who accost people outside government’s public-dealing offices and courts with offers to make their tasks or dealings inside easy.

And the Excise and Taxation Office in Islamabad comes readily to mind as a place bristling with touts. The office issues permits for some forbidden stuffs and collects a vast range of government taxes and excise duties. People throng it for liquor and spirit permits and to pay the entertainment duty, professional tax, property tax, tobacco vending fee, bed tax and for the registration and transfer of all kinds of vehicles.

Long queues start forming from early morning outside each window serving them and the bureaucratic procedures involved even in paying a tax pose a big hassle for them. Their discomfort opens a window of opportunity for the ‘touts’ and indirectly to those sitting behind the service window, admit the ETO and police officials. According to them people of means and status fall prey willingly to the touts to avoid the hassle.

A fee to the tout for his services saves them not just time but a lot of hassle. People who cannot afford the fee, or want to stick to the ‘straight path’ can be sure of the man behind the window discovering some discrepancy in their documents, ensuring many return trips to the ETO office.

On average, the ETO registers 3,500 vehicles every month.

Most money is made in facilitating people coming to register or transfer their vehicles. The bigger the client’s car, the bigger their hurry and the bigger is the fee. Services of the tout range from securing the ‘proper’ form for a specific task, filling it, inspecting the vehicle, collecting the registration book and registration plate and delivering them to the client.

It might be a good deal between the client, the tout and the ETO facilitator, but not good for the ETO and police.

So, on February 15, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Islamabad police raided the ETO to nab the touts. The raiding party closed the main gate of the ETO and cordoned off the area to prevent the touts from escaping.

SIU team questioned everyone about their presence within the compound but found it hard to identify a tout from the crowd?

They picked up 124 people as suspected touts, however, and shifted them to nearby police buildings. Forty-four of them were soon let off as innocent.

The rest 80 were pinned down as touts for possessing documents of vehicles and booked them under PPCs 170, 171, 419 and 420. The FIR registered against them stated that they impersonated as government officials and carried documents of vehicles’ registration and transfer, including forged documents, which was a crime.

According to the SIU, during the interrogation they said they used back door channels to submit forms and documents, inspection, and collected registration book or plates. Some ETO officials helped them and received commission for the facilitation.

Majority of the alleged touts belonged to Islamabad’s rural areas and formed a ring.

Director General Excise retired Capt Mushtaq Ahmed said that actions taken against touts in the past had reduced the practice and one-window operation is being reviewed to discourage the tout culture.

“Within three weeks, online forms service will also start,” he disclosed to Dawn. “And the Director ETO has been told to conduct a weekly exercise to identify touts in and around the ETO and take legal action against them.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2016