23 Aug 2023 1:34 PM GMT
A union of taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers has approached the Supreme Court expressing concerns about overturning a verdict which allows drivers having Light Motor Vehicle(LMV) license to drive transport vehicles which have unladen weight less than 7500 kilograms.The Tamil Nadu Urimai Kural Driver Trader Union, representing over 2000 taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers in the southern state, ...
A union of taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers has approached the Supreme Court expressing concerns about overturning a verdict which allows drivers having Light Motor Vehicle(LMV) license to drive transport vehicles which have unladen weight less than 7500 kilograms.
The Tamil Nadu Urimai Kural Driver Trader Union, representing over 2000 taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers in the southern state, has filed an application seeking to be heard in the case pending before a constitution bench of the Supreme Court hearing a batch of pleas over the question of whether additional endorsement on a light motor vehicle (LMV) license is required to drive transport vehicles weighing less than 7500 kilos.
In the application filed last month, the drivers' union has argued that any mandate requiring a commercial endorsement on an LMV permit to operate such transport vehicles would ‘render such cab drivers unworkable and inoperative’, affecting not only them but also their families. Since the outcome of these appeals would have ‘widespread ramifications’ on the rights and livelihoods of its members, the union has sought to be included as one of the parties and make its submissions on the substantial question of law raised in this issue –
“Incontrovertibly the union would be an affected party if the present petition is to be allowed since its members, on basis of the law as laid down by the judgment under reconsideration, have been allowed to ply their vehicles irrespective of their driving licence having the endorsement for a transport vehicle. Such cab drivers usually have their cars or vehicles on bank loans and their earnings from driving cabs are usually the only source of income for their family. They also usually live in or around metro cities and urban areas, where the requirement and penetration of cab services are the highest. Therefore, these families have to deal with a slightly higher cost of living than the national average. These appeals shall render such cab drivers unworkable and inoperative. The same shall affect not only the individuals plying their trade but also their dependents.”
Among other things, the drivers’ union has argued that the current regulations under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 focus on vehicle ‘class’, rather than ‘type’, eliminating the need for a separate endorsement for LMV license-holders to drive transport vehicles of the ‘light motor vehicle’ class which weigh below 7500 kg. To further illustrate this point, the union has relied on the specific exclusion of the term ‘transport vehicles’ from the definitions of medium passenger motor vehicle (MPMV) and heavy passenger motor vehicle (HPMV) in the Act, as contrasted with its inclusion in the definition of an LMV –
“Clearly thus the variance between the legislative intent in defining an LMV as opposed to MPMV and HPMV when read along with [the definition of ‘transport vehicle’] makes it evident that a transport vehicle is subsumed within the definition of an LMV whereas the same cannot be held true for the latter classifications. Thus, in so far as passenger vehicles are concerned the additionalities vis-à-vis a transport vehicle would apply solely to the classes of MPMVs and HPMVs and would not be factor as would artificially curtail the manner in which an LMV is defined.”
Noting that any abrupt change to the rules would disrupt the livelihoods of cab and auto-rickshaw drivers and affect passengers, the drivers’ union has also requested a transition period of one to two years in the event that the appeals are upheld, to allow the drivers time to get the additional endorsement.
“Rendering such drivers, being members of this union, out of work and off the roads devoid of any transitional provision would result in a chaotic situation not only for those directly so affected but also the industry as a whole. A significant number of passengers and commuters who use such services would also be directly affected owing to the unavailability of drivers thereby severely affecting the public transport system. Therefore, it is prayed that a transition period of one to two years be outlined by this court in the eventuality that the appeals are allowed.”
Apart from this, the applicant-union has stressed the need for clear guidelines for the transition, if at all, which would include mandatory publication and advertising requirements –
“Any such decision by this Court would require to be well-advertised and widely published by the central and respective state regulatory authorities so that the common cab drivers are made acquainted of any such change. Unless and until the same is done, the common cab driver, who are mostly not even high school graduates, would be susceptible to fines and penalties under the act which may include seizure of vehicles, inconveniencing them even further.”
The drivers' union is represented by advocates Mohini Priya, Siddharth Agarwal, and Vivek Mathur.
A constitution bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, and Justices Hrishikesh Roy, PS Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal, and Manoj Misra is currently hearing a batch of pleas over whether a driving licence for a ‘light motor vehicle’ permits driving a transport vehicle of ‘light motor vehicle class’ with an unladen weight below 7500 kg. This query arises from a 2017 judgment in Mukund Dewangan v. Oriental Insurance Company Limited, in which a three-judge bench, while answering a reference made to it by a division bench, concluded that a separate endorsement on a light motor vehicle licence was not mandatory for operating such transport vehicles. Bajaj Allianz General Insurance contested this before another three-judge bench. This bench, headed by former chief justice UU Lalit doubted the correctness of the Mukund Dewangan ruling and referred it to a larger bench.
In July this year, the five-judge bench now hearing the pleas sought the union government’s view on this controversy. While the petitioner-insurance companies have argued that allowing LMV license holders to drive transport vehicles of 7500 kilos of unladen weight jeopardises public safety, the respondent sought to highlight how the union government has accepted the Mukund Dewangan ruling, citing notifications issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways as well as the amendments to the Motor Vehicle Rules in 2021.
After hearing these submissions, the constitution bench adjourned the hearing with an instruction to the central government to submit its stance. The order reads:
“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.”
Bajaj Alliance General Insurance Company Limited v. Rambha Devi & Ors. | Civil Appeal No. 841 of 2018 and connected matters