SC asks Centre to assess impact of reversing 2017 ruling on LMV driving licence

ByAbraham Thomas
Sep 13, 2023 03:44 PM IST

The SC was hearing a clutch of 75 appeals by insurance companies seeking reversal of a 2017 verdict that allowed LMV licence holders to drive transport vehicles

NEW DELHI: A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday told the Centre to evaluate the “far-reaching implications” of reversing the 2017 verdict that allowed people with a licence to drive light motor vehicles (LMV) to drive even a transport vehicle provided it weighs less than 7500kg.

The Centre told the Supreme Court that it was open to withdrawing the two notification it had issued in compliance with the 2017 verdict (Hindustan Times File)
The Centre told the Supreme Court that it was open to withdrawing the two notification it had issued in compliance with the 2017 verdict (Hindustan Times File)

“We are dealing with lakhs and lakhs of people issued licenses under the 2017 decision. The impact of a reversal at this stage on the social sector is a fact that merits consideration and needs to be balanced by the policy arm of the government. The government can still come to us and say all existing licences can be given a particular time period to conform with the modified law. This we cannot do being a constitutional court,” the bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud said.

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In conducting the evaluation of the change, the top court advised the government to adopt a holistic approach and not go by just legalities.

“You are looking at a scenario in future with driverless cars. This sector is undergoing rapid changes and India is not going to fall behind. The government needs to look at the matter holistically. While this involves a statutory issue, the government may not go by the strict legality as people’s livelihoods are involved,” the bench, also comprising justices Hrishikesh Roy, PS Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra, said.

The bench allowed the government to take a fresh look at the matter considering various aspects, including the rapid changes in the motor vehicle sector in terms of new infrastructure and the emerging aggregator services in the commercial sector using private transport arrangements. The court has asked the Centre to place the outcome of the exercise by the next date of hearing on November 22

The bench is hearing a bunch of 75 petitions by insurance companies against a three-judge bench verdict (Mukund Dewangan v Oriental Insurance) in July 2017 that ended the practice of different sets of rules guiding the grant of licence to drive private and commercial vehicles as long as the unladen weight of the vehicle was less than 7500kg. The verdict meant that any person with a licence to drive a private car or autorickshaw did not need the transport department’s endorsement to also drive cabs, taxis or other buses with passengers.

Insurance companies argued this verdict had serious implications for road safety as it would permit an autorickshaw driver to drive a road roller, a school bus or a contract carriage without going through the stringent checks meant for transport vehicle drivers, who had to undergo a rigorous 30-day training course before acquiring a licence.

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Oriental Insurance, said the government officials he had spoken with were in agreement that the 2017 judgment needs a relook and open to the court’s suggestion that the matter be sent back to Centre for a “holistic, fresh consideration”.

Mehta argued that if the present law was not interfered with, unfit drivers would start operating transport vehicles and put the lives of thousands of people at risk. He said transport vehicles carry passengers at large and hence a greater check is intended on such vehicles.

To a question on the status of the two administrative orders issued by the Centre on April 16, 2018 and March 31, 2021 to bring the law in line with the top court’s 2017 verdict, Attorney General R Venkatramani on Wednesday told the bench that the two notifications by the Centre should not be treated as a “policy decision of Government of India” which is open to withdraw them.

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