The Centre told the Supreme Court today that a government-appointed committee has submitted a draft report after examining a legal question that whether a person holding a driving licence for a light motor vehicle is also entitled to legally drive a transport vehicle carrying unladen weight not exceeding 7,500 kilograms.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud granted time to the Centre till April 15 to resolve the issue and said if the matter remains unresolved, it will hear the pleas and pronounce a verdict.
“Actually, it is a part-heard matter. We have substantially heard it… We will give you (the government) the time to resolve the matter. If it is not resolved, then we will hear the matter and lay down the law.
“Ultimately, if Parliament wants to intervene, then it can always do so…,” the bench, also comprising Justices Hrishikesh Roy, PS Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra, said.
The bench granted time till mid-February for the finalisation of the report and asked the government to supply copies of it to the litigating parties.
It said the batch of pleas will now be kept for passing directions on April 16 and the hearing will commence from April 23.
“The attorney general says a draft report of the committee appointed by the government has been received. He would request time to examine it. The proceedings shall now be listed for directions on April 16 and it is understood that in the event, if the issue is not resolved on that day by the Union of India, the proceedings shall be listed for concluding the remaining part of the hearing on April 23, 2024,” it said.
Earlier, the bench had directed the Centre to review by January 17 the legal question of whether a person holding a driving licence for a light motor vehicle is also entitled to legally drive a transport vehicle carrying unladen weight not exceeding 7,500 kilograms.
Observing that these are policy issues impacting “the livelihood of lakhs of people”, the court had said the government needs to take a “fresh look” at the matter, which needs to be taken up at the policy level.
“Whether a person holding a driving licence in respect of a light motor vehicle (LMV) could, on the strength of that licence, be entitled to drive a transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class having unladen weight not exceeding 7,500 kg,” reads the legal question being dealt with by the court.
The legal question has given rise to various disputes over the payment of claims by insurance companies in accident cases involving transport vehicles being driven by those holding licences to drive LMVs.
The bench had noted that the exercise for amendment would require consultations with multiple stakeholders, which will take time.
“We direct the Union to pursue the exercise with utmost expedition. Since the consultation with the state governments is envisaged, we direct all state governments to comply with the timeline set by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
“The proceedings shall now be listed on January 17, 2024, by which date we expect that the consultation will be concluded in its entirety and a clear roadmap of further steps, which the Union proposes to take, should be placed before this court,” it had ordered.
Attorney General R Venkataramani had submitted a note from the Centre and said the government was considering a larger picture rather than piecemeal amendments to address the issue.
The bench had asked the Centre if a change in law is warranted on the legal question of whether a person holding a driving licence for an LMV is entitled to legally drive a transport vehicle of a particular weight.
It had earlier sought the attorney general’s assistance in dealing with the legal question.
The Constitution bench had said ascertaining the position of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways will be necessary after it was told that the top court’s 2017 verdict in the case of Mukund Dewangan versus Oriental Insurance Company Limited was accepted by the Centre and rules were amended to align those with the judgment.
In the Mukund Dewangan case, a three-judge bench of the top court had held that transport vehicles, the gross weight of which does not exceed 7,500 kg, are not excluded from the definition of an LMV.
“There may be lakhs of drivers across the country who are working on the basis of the Dewangan judgment. This is not a constitutional issue. It is purely a statutory issue,” the bench had said.
“This is not just the question of law, but also the social impact of the law…. Road safety has to be balanced with the social purpose of the law and you have to see if this causes serious hardships. We cannot decide issues of social policy in a Constitution bench,” it had said.
On July 18 last year, the Constitution bench commenced hearing as many as 76 petitions to deal with the legal question.
The lead petition was filed by M/s Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company Limited.
The Motor Vehicles Act provides for different regimes for the granting of driving licences for different categories of vehicles. The matter was referred to the larger bench on March 8, 2022 by a three-judge bench headed by Justice U U Lalit (since retired).
It was said that certain provisions of the law were not noticed by the top court in the Mukund Dewangan judgment and “the controversy in question needs to be revisited”.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)