The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to entertain a plea by a group of Punjab-based travel agents challenging the validity of the Punjab Travel Professionals' Regulation Act, 2012 and its rules, saying that the provisions were not "restrictive but regulatory" in nature.
"What are the restrictions? These are only regulatory and not restrictive," said Justice Arun Mishra as petitioners counsel R.K. Kapoor took the court through various provisions questioning their validity.
"What is wrong with the (licence) fee (for the registration of travel agencies), Rs. 100,000 is not an unreasonable amount. You know the kind of money they make," Justice Mishra observed as Kapoor sought to assail the provision by which travel agents had to pay the amount for getting a licence.
Dismissing the petition as withdrawn, the court brushed aside the objections to various provisions including competent authority issuing licence upon satisfaction, no criminal record or the office space of 15 ft. X 20 ft.
"It is very good," Justice Mishra observed as counsel Kapoor pointed to the provision that says travel agents should not be involved in any crime as per the police records.
The Punjab Travel Professionals' Regulation Act, 2012 was originally enacted as Prevention of Human Smuggling Act, 2012 but was renamed subsequently in its present form.
The petitioners travel operators had challenged the provision of the Punjab Travel Professionals' Regulation Act, 2012 and Punjab Travel Professionals' Regulation Rules 2013 which mandates that all those in the business of travel agents, consultancy or ticketing will have to get themselves registered upon the payment of licence fee of Rs. 100,000 -- for those who are in trade for over five years, and Rs.25,000 -- who are in the trade for less than five years.
The proprietors of travel companies had also challenged the provision which says that at the time of seeking licence they should not be involved in any crime as per the police records.
As a deterrence, the law says that any travel agent who contravenes with the provision of the Act or Rules thereof or keeps or uses devices for human trafficking would be punished with an imprisonment not less than three years which may extend to seven years and invite a fine up to Rs.500,000.
The travel agents were also aggrieved with the provision which says that every month they must provide to the competent authority, the details of their clients to whom they have rendered services and fee charged from them. And the copy of the same is expected to be supplied to the Punjab government.
The petitioner tour operators have contended that provision of the Punjab Travel Professionals' Regulation Act, 2012 violated their fundamental right to equality (Article 14), to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business (Article 19 (1)(g) and Protection of life and personal liberty (Article 21)).
The travel agents had contended that the objects and reasons of the Punjab Travel Professionals' Regulation Act, 2012 says that it was aimed to curb illegal and fraudulent activities of the people involved in organised human smuggling.
They wondered how the objects of the law were sought to be achieved by regulating the profession of the travel agents who have got nothing to do with illegal activities sought to be curbed under the statute.