Separate Licences for Transport Vehicles | Day 1: Petitioners Argue that LMVs and Transport Vehicles are Distinct

Validity of ‘Light Motor Vehicle’ Licence to Drive ‘Transport Vehicle’

Judges: D.Y. Chandrachud CJI, P.S. Narasimha J, Hrishikesh Roy J, Manoj Misra J, Pankaj Mithal J

The Supreme Court began hearing arguments on whether a person licenced to drive a ‘light motor vehicle’ under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MVA) is automatically entitled to drive a ‘Transport Vehicle of Light Motor Vehicle Class’ with an unladen weight of less than 7500 kg. Senior Advocate Siddharth Dave for Bajaj Allianz General Insurance argued today, taking the Court through the various provisions of the MVA that create a distinction between Light Motor Vehicles and Transport Vehicles.


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 3-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 3-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 5-Judge Bench led by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, P.S. Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra.

Points Discussed

  • Does the licencing regime for Transport and Light Motor Vehicles consider the two categories to be distinct?
  • Can Section 10 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 be interpreted to mean that one licences shall be used for both LMV and Transport Vehicles?
  • What is the impact of allowing LMV licence holders to drive transport vehicles?

Sr. Adv. Siddharth Dave pointed out that the provisions up to Section 10 of the MVA show that a light motor vehicle and a transport vehicle are distinct, requiring different licences to drive them. In Mukund Dewangan (2017) the Supreme Court relied on Section 10 to state that a licence for light motor vehicle automatically entitled a person to drive a transport motor vehicle of unladen weight of 7500 kg. Section 10 lays out the form and contents required on the licences to drive. 

The Definition of a Driving Licence 

Dave brought the Court’s attention to Section 3 of the MVA, which stipulates the ‘necessity for a driving licence’ to drive a motor vehicle. The second part of the provision explains that ‘no person shall so drive a transport vehicle…unless his driving licence specifically entitles him so to do.’ Dave argued that the specific mention of transport vehicles in the provision is indication that a licence for a light motor vehicle cannot be used for a transport vehicle—a point that Mukund Dewangan missed. 

Rules for Eligibility to Obtain a Driving Licence

Dave attempted to show that the barrier of eligibility for transport vehicles was significantly higher than that of light motor vehicles. As transport vehicles are often used to carry passengers and goods, this barrier plays a crucial role in ensuring road safety.

Referring to Section 4, which sets the age limit for driving motor vehicles, Dave pointed out that the MVA specifically sets the minimum age for all vehicles at 18. However, Section 4(2) set the minimum age for driving transport vehicles at 20. To be eligible even for a learner’s licence, Section 7 states that a candidate must have held a driving license for a light motor vehicle for at least one year.

Further, Section 8 states that a person applying for a learner’s licence for a transport vehicle, must submit a medical certificate by a registered medical practitioner, who will attest to the physical fitness of the applicant to drive a transport vehicle. In contrast, for most motor vehicles, a self declaration form is sufficient. The requirement for a medical certificate is also necessary for renewal of a driving licence for transport vehicles under Section 15 of the MVA. 

Section 9 mandates that the applicant for a transport vehicle licence must have a driving certificate from a driving school or similar institution. 

Section 10 Does not Allow a Licence Holder to Drive all Types of Vehicles

In Mukund Dewangan, the Bench held that Section 10 allows a holder of a driving licence for light motor vehicle may also drive a transport vehicle. Section 10 discusses the ‘form and contents of licences’. Dave argued that all the provisions discussed above—about definitions and eligibility—would become inapplicable if Mukund Dewangan is upheld. 

The confusion arises from the definition for a light motor vehicle under Section 2(21). Here the MVA describes a Light Motor Vehicles as a ‘transport vehicle or omnibus the gross vehicle weight of either of which or a motor car or tractor or road-roller the unladen weight of any of which, does not exceed 7500 kilograms’. Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was quick to note that just the definition ‘itself does not indicate that the moment you have a licence for a light motor vehicle, that as a matter of right, you would be entitled to drive a transport vehicle’. It merely states that a transport vehicle among other vehicles whose unladen weight is less than 7500 Kg is considered a light motor vehicle. 

Sr. Adv. Neeraj Kishan Kaul added that the MVA classifies vehicles not by weight, but by usage. He pointed out that Mukund Dewangan ‘falls to that error’ of reading the definition of Light Motor Vehicle with Section 10, to mean that if a transport vehicle has unladen weight of less than 7500 kg, a light motor vehicle licence would be sufficient to drive it. Justice P.S. Narasimha added that the MVA draws the distinction between the utility of the vehicle and the vehicle itself. Pleased with the Judge’s agreement, Neeraj Kaul added that the ‘licence regime is based entirely on usage’. 

Impact of Mukund Dewangan May be Catastrophic for Road Safety

Dave pointed out that the effect of deciding that a person holding a licence to drive a light motor vehicle can drive all vehicles under Section 10 would be grave. It would mean that an untrained person who simply has a driver’s licence would be authorised to drive even a road-roller! This point brought on enthusiastic agreement from the Bench, who agreed that the requirements to be eligible for a transport vehicle licence was more stringent. Kaul added that for vehicles carrying hazardous items, the rules were even more stringent. If Mukund Dewangan was followed, no separate licence to transport hazardous materials would be needed—leading to grave safety concerns. 

Justice Narasimha: Mukund Dewangan ‘Mistook’ Section 10(2)

Section 10(2) states that ‘A learner’s licence or,…driving licence shall also be expressed as entitling the holder to drive’ a vehicle of the classes it lists, which includes transport vehicles. Justice Narsimha focused on the word ‘expressed’, stating that the word refers to the form and content of a licence. That is, the form and contents of a licence must be similar to other categories of motor vehicles. It was not trying to ‘equate’ a light motor vehicle with the transport vehicle. 

As the day ended, the Bench appeared to be strongly leaning towards the arguments of the petitioners. The case will be heard next on July 19, 2023.