The Bombay high court on Tuesday lambasted the Maharashtra government for ignoring passengers’ safety while making knowledge of Marathi mandatory for autorickshaw drivers seeking licences.
“Government’s emphasis should not be only on the knowledge of language, but also on passengers’ safety,” said a division bench of justice Abhay Oka and Girish Kulkarni.
“What is the mechanism to provide immediate protection to passengers, if some auto rickshaw driver misbehaves with a passenger?” the judges asked the assistant government pleader, Manish Pabale, appearing for the transport department.
On Monday, the bench told the government that the language condition was prima facie incorrect. It will continue its order on Wednesday.
Noting that the Maharashtra Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, requires, among others, autorickshaw drivers to behave in a civil and orderly manner towards passengers, the bench asked the state government how it will enforce the rules.
The court was hearing a bunch of petitions filed by various auto associations, primarily challenging the validity of a circular issued by the transport commissioner on February 20, 2016.
The order mandated that auto drivers applying for licences shall have a ‘working knowledge’ of Marathi and be aware of the topography of the area for which the permit is sought.
Terming the transport commissioner’s circular illegal, petitioners argued the state government should have laid down the language rule.
The judges also sought to know from the petitioner’s lawyer, Suresh Sabrad, how they want to comply with the Marathi rule and other guideline stipulating a dress code, permits and safety of passengers.
“This needs to be taken to a logical conclusion,” said the bench, referring to an order passed by another bench of the court on November 17, 2016, in a similar petition filed by Mira Bhayandar Republican Rickshaw Chalak Malak Union.
On November 17, the bench had said the local language condition did not appear to be unreasonable.
Expanding the scope of the petition, the HC had also included the passengers’ safety issue, considering a number of complaints had been received from the public over unruly behaviour of auto drivers.
It had also directed the transport commissioner to inform it about the steps taken to redress commuters’ grievances.