In a setback to the Badal government, the Punjab and Haryana high court, after finding the Punjab Mini Bus Service Scheme, 2010, formulated to "shelter private minibus operators" to operate on monopoly routes to the exclusion of their competitors, has quashed the scheme.
In a judgment running into 111 pages, the division bench comprising justice Surya Kant and justice RP Nagrath declared the minibus permits illegal, which were issued or renewed under the scheme dated August 9, 1990, and modified on October 21, 1997, under the Punjab Mini Bus Services Scheme, 2007, as well as those issued under the 2010 scheme.
Pronouncing the judgment on a bunch of petitions challenging the scheme, the bench found that Clause (5) of the scheme "unduly tilts in favour of private minibus operators as it gives them 80% share as compared to the 20% of the STUs (state transport undertakings) in all future operations on the indicative routes."
Stating the scheme as "a colourable exercise of power to protect existing minibus operators", the bench asked the state, "Where is the question of providing efficient, adequate or economical road transport service to the passenger public when the STUs possess neither minibuses nor have expressed their willingness to run and operate on the identified routes?"
Showing surprise, the court expressed that even after two years of the scheme coming into operation, no permit has been granted to any STU for any indicative or monopoly route. However, the private minibus operators whose operations have been 'protected' are undoubtedly thriving upon their monopoly on such routes, the bench observed.
Drawing inference from the "tone and tenor of the scheme", the court said the scheme allowed existing minibus permit holders "to operate their buses on the same terms and conditions" as they were operating prior to the 2010 scheme.
However, the court, while disposing of the petitions, praying for quashing of the orders passed by the state transport authority refusing to consider their applications for grant of stage carriage permits and to liberate the issuance of permits on non-nationalised routes, left it open for them "to seek consequential relief(s) before an appropriate forum".