13 Sep 2023 1:46 PM GMT
Deferring the hearing on the Light Motor Vehicle Driving License issue, a Supreme Court Constitution Bench on Wednesday urged the Union Government to consider if the matter could be resolved through amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 and policy changes.The issue before the Constitution Bench is whether a person holding a driving licence in respect of a “light motor vehicle”, could...
Deferring the hearing on the Light Motor Vehicle Driving License issue, a Supreme Court Constitution Bench on Wednesday urged the Union Government to consider if the matter could be resolved through amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 and policy changes.
The issue before the Constitution Bench is whether a person holding a driving licence in respect of a “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 noted that an interpretation given by the Court could impact the livelihood of hordes of drivers. Therefore, the bench urged the Attorney General for India R Venkataramani to consider bringing appropriate legislative amendments to strike a balance between the livelihood issue and road safety concerns.
Statutory Issue Combined With Social Policy, Not An Interpretative Exercise To Be Carried By Court
The issue of whether a person holding a driving license in respect of a Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) could on the strength of that license drive a transport vehicle having an unladen weight not exceeding 7500 kgs was dealt with in the judgement 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 kgs. Thus, a person holding an LMV driving licence was entitled to drive a "transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class" having an unladen weight not exceeding 7500 kgs. In 2022, the dictum in Mukund Dewangan was doubted by a coordinate bench and the matter was referred to a 5-judge bench.
In today's hearings, the AG, primarily stated that the application of the ratio in Mukul Dewangan enabled a person holding a license of LMV to drive a transport vehicle on the strength of that license without a separate licence and that this interpretation in Mukul Dewangan does not seem to be in tune with legislative intent.
Justice Hrishikesh Roy then raised the issue of 'livelihood' and stated that the same had to be taken into consideration while framing any rules or regulations. CJI DY Chandrachud added to the same and stated that the impact on people had to be considered as there could be lakhs of people across the country driving commercial vehicles based on the judgement in the Mukul Dewangan.
"They will be completely put out of their livelihood. This is not just a question of interpreting the law but also the social impact of the law. You may have to balance road safety on the one hand with the social purpose of the law. We cannot decide issues of social policy in the Constitution bench. We have to go strictly by law," said the CJI.
The CJI also stated that the decision in the Mukul Dewangan had held the field for over six years now and any change in the position of law would have a serious impact on many. He added–
"The Government can also take a call on what is the actual impact of the law on the ground over the last six years. If the consequences are such that it does not pose any danger to road safety and protects the right to livelihood etc. or you may have some modifications in the future – give some provision that in the next five years you must bring your license is in conformity. You may have a variety of options open to us which we as a court do not have open to us."
The bench also discussed the impact of policies on rapidly evolving transportation. The CJI remarked–
"You may have autonomous vehicles coming up. They are already being experimented upon in other countries. India is not going to fall far behind."
Justice Roy added that there may even be a time in future when there would not be any driver and hence licenses would not be required in that sense.
The CJI added that other than the social impact, the government may also have to look at how many licensees in the country could actually comply with the "strict dichotomy" that the insurance companies have urged. "How many will you be left with, will you have that supply left in the country?" he asked.
"This case does not raise a constitutional issue. It raises a statutory issue– statutory issue combined with issues of social policy. The government may settle for a less-than-legal solution only to protect people's livelihood. Government does it all the time. The easiest way for us to do this is to interpret the law and then come to the conclusion that Dewangan was wrongly decided. But it is not so simple because we are worried about the impact," the CJI added.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta also participated in the discussion, stating that the officials also agreed that the policy of the government needed a relook.
"The sector is evolving so much. There are criss-cross highways. The position that existed when the law was obtained is radically different now," said the CJI.
Senior Advocate Jayant Bhushan, appearing for an insurance company however urged the Court to decide the legal issue, without waiting for any concession by the Union Government. Since a legal issue has been referred to the Constitution Bench, the lawyer argued, the Bench is bound to answer the reference, regardless of the impact. He suggested that the Court can issue appropriate directions to protect those who had enjoyed the benefit of the Mukul Dewangan decision; but the Court has to decide the reference and settle the interpretation of the law, the counsel submitted.
Necessary For The Union To Have A Fresh Look At The Matter
Ultimately, the court decided that it would be necessary for the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to have a fresh look at the matter. The following reasons were provided for the same–
1. Since the enactment of the MV Act in 1988, there has been a rapid evolution of the transport sector particularly with the emergence of new infrastructure and arrangements particularly in the commercial sector.
2. Any interpretation of the law must take into account valid concerns of road safety.
3. The decision in Mukul Dewangan has held the field for nearly six years and the impact that the reversal of the decision would have on the social sector is a facet which merited consideration by the executive.
4. Any change in the position of law in Mukul Dewangan would undoubtedly have an impact on persons who have insurance and who may be driving commercial vehicles with LMV license. A large number would be dependent on livelihood which would be disturbed.
"All of them do raise important issues of policy which must be assessed and evaluated by the union government. Whether a change in law is warranted has to be assessed by the Union Government. Having regard to these features, we're of the view that the issue of interpretation which has been referred to Constitution Bench should await the careful evaluation of policy considerations which must weigh with the government in deciding whether reversal of law is warranted," stated the court.
Thus, in view of the far-reaching implications that could arise from the reversal of the judgement in Mukul Dewangan, the court held it appropriate for the entire matter to be evaluated by the government before the court embarked on the interpretative exercise of the law.
"Once the court is apprised, the proceedings before the Constitution Bench may be taken up based on further material placed before the court. We request the Government to carry out this exercise in 2 months."
Case Title: M/S. BAJAJ ALLIANCE GENERAL INSURANCE CO.LTD. v. RAMBHA DEVI & ORS. | Civil Appeal No(s).841/2018
Click Here To Read/Download Order