Separate Licence for Transport Vehicles | Day 5: Union to submit complete road map for amendment to Motor Vehicles Act by January 2024Validity of ‘Light Motor Vehicle’ Licence to Drive ‘Transport Vehicle’
Today, a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court assembled to hear the challenge to the decision in Mukund Dewangan v Oriental Insurance Company Limited (2017) which held that a transport vehicle and omnibus weighing below 7500 kg would be classified as a Light Motor Vehicle (LMV).With this, all LMV licence holders became eligible to drive transport vehicles.
Over the four days of hearings so far, the Court recognised that this case has a significant impact on road safety and the livelihood of thousands of drivers who operate a transport vehicle with an LMV licence. In the previous hearing, the Bench suggested that the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways review the consequences of interpreting the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MVA) as per Mukund Dewangan.
Today, the Court was supposed to hear the Union’s submissions on the impact on the transport sector in the post-Mukund Dewangan regime. Attorney General R. Venkataramani said that identifying the issues was a long consultative process with various stakeholders, including insurance companies, State government and Union Territories. This, he argued, required more time and sought an adjournment of the case. The Court was disinclined to entertain this request.
In Mukund Dewangan v Oriental Insurance Company Limited, (2017) the Supreme Court was asked to decide if ‘unladen’ transport vehicles under Sec. 10(2)(e) which are less than 7500 kg would be considered a light motor vehicle under Sec. 10(2)(d). That is, would a person holding a licence to drive a light motor vehicle need a separate licence to drive a transport vehicle which was less than 7500 kg before any goods were loaded on it? A three-judge bench held that “a transport vehicle and omnibus, the gross vehicle weight of either of which does not exceed 7500 kg would be a light motor vehicle. “
In March 2022, the appellants, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance argued that the Supreme Court erred in allowing holders of the light motor vehicle licence to drive a transport vehicle. They claimed that the MVA created starkly different rules for each. Provisions of the MVA and Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 (Motor Vehicles Rules)—which concerned age of eligibility for driver’s and learner’s licence, duration of validity of licence, required medical clearance and training—were distinct for the two categories of vehicles.
On March 8th 2022, a three-judge bench of (then) Justice U.U. Lalit, S.R. Bhat and P.S. Narasimha referred the case to a larger bench to review the points omitted by the Court in Mukund Dewangan. The case was listed before a five-judge bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justices Hrishikesh Roy, P.S. Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra.
Venkataramani: Consultation with all stakeholders, States and Union Territories will require time
Venkataramani informed the Bench that the Union government wants to look at the “larger view of the picture”, instead of doing a “piecemeal amendment” to the MVA. After this consultative process, the Union would introduce an amendment that takes into account any other lacunae in the MVA, in addition to sections 2(21) and 10. Section 2(21) defines LMVs and 10 discusses the form and contents of licences. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MORTH) stated that any re-evaluation and subsequent amendment to the MVA will require continuous consultation with the stakeholders, especially the states. This is because motor vehicles are in both Union and State Lists of the Constitution of India, 1950.
As part of this consultative exercise, the MORTH will look into the repercussions of the amendments on other provisions in the MVA, rules and regulations, the state exchequer and the general public.
The AG assured the Court that the MORTH has met a few times, and is in the process of seeking written inputs from states and UTs on the amendment sought to be introduced. As the amendment will have wide ramifications on road safety, the AG stated that the consultation will require revaluations of the qualification of drivers, of safety standards of LMV, and the training material mandated for Transport vehicles.
Assuring the Court that he himself has had “intensified discussions” on this topic, Venkataramani sought an adjournment. He assured that he has told the Union to decide on the amendments before the budget session sometime before February 2024.
CJI: Supreme Court not inclined to adjourn the proceedings sine die
CJI D.Y. Chandrachud stated that giving an adjournment sine die, that is, with no set date for the next hearing, would be “unfair” to insurance companies who are awaiting resolution in the case. Justice Hrishikesh Roy stated that in theory, consultations can go on forever. If the Union government put some pressure on state governments and UTs, they would respond quicker.
The Bench dictated the order in Court. It stated that the Court is aware that an “element of certainty” must be brought on the questions raised in the reference, but is also cognisant of the Union’s concerns that more time might be needed.
It directed all state governments to strictly abide by any timeline set by MORTH for the consultation process, and to “pursue the exercise…with utmost expedition.” While this process takes place, the position taken in Mukund Dewangan will continue to hold the field.
The Court will hear the case next on 17th January 2024, by when the Court “expect[s] that the consultation should be conducted in entirety and a clear road map on the further steps which the Union government proposes to take should be placed before the Court.”