20 July 2023 1:43 PM GMT
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court Constitution on Thursday issued notice to the Union Government to seek its view on the issue whether a person holding a driving licence in respect of “light motor vehicle”, could on the strength of that licence, be entitled to drive a “transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class” having unladen weight not exceeding 7500 kg. The bench...
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court Constitution on Thursday issued notice to the Union Government to seek its view on the issue whether a person holding a driving licence in respect of “light motor vehicle”, could on the strength of that licence, be entitled to drive a “transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class” having unladen weight not exceeding 7500 kg.
The bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice Hrishikesh Roy, Justice PS Narasimha, Justice Pankaj Mithal, and Justice Manoj Misra opined that the the position of the Union Government and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways was necessary to decide the reference. The Court has sought the assistance of Attorney General for India R Venkataramani. The matter will be next heard on September 13.
The Constitution bench had started hearing the batch of petitions on July 18, 2023.
The issue arises out of a judgement in Mukund Dewangan v. Oriental Insurance Company Limited (2017) 14 SCC 663. In this case, a 3-judge Bench comprising Justice Amitava Roy, Justice Arun Mishra, and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul held that a separate endorsement in the "Light Motor Vehicle" driving licence was not required to drive a transport vehicle having unladen weight below 7500 kilograms. Thus, a person holding a LMV driving licence was entitled to drive a "transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class" having unladen weight not exceeding 7500 kgs.
In March 2022, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance (the petitioners in the matter) approached the Supreme Court and argued that the court had erred in its decision. A 3-judge Bench comprising Justice UU Lalit, Ravindra Bhat and PS Narasimha doubted the correctness of the decision given by the coordinate bench in the case and the matter was thus referred to a Constitution Bench.
The appellant-insurance companies were represented by Mr Siddharth Dave, Mr Jayant Bhushan, Mr NK Kaul, Senior Advocates and SG Tushar Mehta, who was assisted by Ms Archana Pathak Dave. The supporting intervenors were represented by Mr Amit Kumar Singh. The respondents were represented by Mr Devvrat, Mr Kaustubh Shukla, Mr Anuj Bhandari, advocates and Ms Anitha Shenoy, Senior Advocate.
The respondents argued before the court today that the judgement of the court in Mukund Dewangan was accepted by the Union Government by issuing a notification dated 16 April, 2018 and 31 March, 2021 in the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. As a result of this, the Motor Vehicle Rules were amended in 2021 to bring them in conformity with the Mukund Dewangan judgement.
Upon the submissions of the respondents, the court held–
"We are of the considered view that the position of the union government in the Ministry of Road transport and highways would be necessary to render assistance to the court. We request the learned Attorney General for India to assist the court in that matter. List it on September 13, 2023."
Allowing LMV License Holders to drive Transport Vehicles of 7500 kgs unladen weight jeopardises Public Safety: Petitioners
Senior Advocate Siddharth Dave, in his arguments, relied on various sections of the MV Act such as Section 39 and Section 41 to establish that there was a specific purpose and significance designated to "weight" carried by vehicles. In this context, he also relied on Section 44AE of the Income Tax Act as per which in respect of heavy goods vehicle, the minimum income per vehicle is deemed to be Rs 1000 per ton of “gross vehicle weight or unladen weight, as the case may be”, for every month or part thereof. He also argued that transport vehicles were treated as a separate class and could not be considered the same as "light motor vehicles".
Senior Advocate Jayant Bhushan argued that the issue arose due to the definition of "light motor vehicle" which included a transport vehicle which is under 7500 kgs. He stated that the judgement in Mukul Dewangan had made a mistake in dealing with Section 3 of the MV Act. As per Section 3, "no person shall drive a motor vehicle in any public place unless he holds an effective driving licence issued to him authorising him to drive the vehicle; and no person shall so drive a transport vehicle [other than [a motor cab or motor cycle] hired for his own use or rented under any scheme made under sub-section (2) of section 75] unless his driving licence specifically entitles him so to do."
Highlighting the second part of Section 3, he argued–
"It clearly means that you cannot use your license to drive a transport vehicle unless your license authorises you specifically to drive a transport vehicle. What was the need of having the second part if you were to say that LMV includes a transport vehicle of less than 7500 kgs. Then second part becomes totally redundant."
Stating that the court could not give any interpretation to a provision which made certain words redundant, he submitted that a license to drive a light motor vehicle was not a specific authorisation to drive a transport vehicles. Invoking the principle of generalia specialibus non derogant, he stated that if you have a special entry and a general entry, whatever comes within the ambit of the special entry, would be excluded from the ambit of the general. He added that LMV was a general entry and transport vehicle was a specific entry.
Bhushan also argued on the aspect of safety of road users. He said–
"Normally in a private car, you are carrying yourself and people who know you and therefore, people who trust you. But here, you are carrying people who do not know you. You may be driving a bus, you may be driving a school bus and therefore, people strangers to you are putting their life in your control. Therefore, the licensing provisions are much more stringent. You must be at least 20 years old, the license has to be renewed every five years unlike in LMV where it is valid till 40 years, you must have a medical examination done...Why is that? Because you are putting others at risk. Or, in the case of goods vehicles, you are driving for very long hours."
Senior Advocate NK Kaul, in his arguments stated that ultimately the issue was not whether the transport vehicles were included in the definition of LMV but the issue was whether the holder of the LMV license be entitled to drive all vehicles without any specific endorsement or any application test or any form of eligibility requirement, medical certificate etc. He asked–
"So simply because you have an LMV license, is that enough to drive all vehicles under Section 2(21)?...Issues involved of public safety, of much longer hours, duration, hazardous goods, with far more passengers, many of these issues come in why stringent conditions are placed on transport vehicles."
SG Tushar Mehta, also appearing for the insurance company, argued that the intention of the legislature was safety of all- who drove the vehicle, the passengers, and the people on road. He asked–
"The Act is divided into several regimes, one of which is licensing regime. For the licensing regime, LMV and Transport Vehicles are separately provided. Why?"
Case Title: M/S. BAJAJ ALLIANCE GENERAL INSURANCE CO.LTD. v. RAMBHA DEVI & ORS. | Civil Appeal No(s).841/2018
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