New Delhi, Sep 13 : The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Union Road Transport and Highway Ministry to relook into its notifications providing that Light Motor Vehicle (LMV) licence holders do not require separate endorsement to drive a transport vehicle of LMV class.
A five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud and comprising Justices Hrishikesh Roy, P.S. Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal, and Manoj Misra, was hearing a reference made by a three-judge bench in March last year doubting correctness of an earlier decision rendered in the case of Mukund Dewangan vs. Oriental Insurance Company Ltd.
The 2017 Mukund Dewangan judgment had held that the need of transport licence would arise in case of medium/heavy goods and passenger vehicles only, adding that no other vehicle will require any separate endorsement, even if they are used for commercial purposes.
In other words, a holder of an LMV license would not require any separate endorsement for commercial usage of light motor vehicles like e-rickshaws, cars, vans, etc.
The Centre issued notifications and brought amendments in the Motor Vehicles Rules to bring them in conformity with the above judgment of the Supreme Court.
The 2017 judgment gave rise to various disputes over payment of claims by insurance companies in accident cases involving transport vehicles being driven by those having licences to drive LMVs and the matter was re-agitated at the instance of insurance companies.
A bench headed by Justice U.U. Lalit (now retired) in March 2022 held that certain provisions of Motor Vehicles Act were not noticed by the top court in its 2017 Mukund Dewangan’s decision and the issue needs to be re-visited by a five-judge Constitution Bench.
On Wednesday, the Constitution Bench headed by CJI Chandrachud remarked that the issue in question is not plainly “about interpreting law” but involves “social impact of law” as well.
The bench asked Attorney General R. Venkataramani, appearing for the Centre, to consider the impact on lakhs of people across the country who are engaged in driving commercial vehicles on the basis of the judgement in Dewangan case as they will be “completely put out of their livelihood”.
“Why should we reconsider the judgement at this stage? If you are thinking that judgment is not in line with the statutory position, then if you are willing to amend it, you amend it and change the structure of law,” the bench told the top law officer of the country.
The Constitution Bench said that the case really doesn’t raise a “constitutional issue” but involves a “pure statutory issue”.
It said that “issues on social policy” would not be considered by the Constitution Bench as it deals with issues strictly in accordance with law.
The Supreme Court made repeated emphasis that the Union government should review the entirety of the position and then take an appropriate call. The Centre has been given a period of two months to assess the position of law where a person holding a LMV driving license is legally entitled to drive a transport vehicle of light motor vehicle class having unladen weight not exceeding 7,500 kg.
The observations made by the Supreme Court apparently suggests that the current position of law may turn the legal scales into the favour of insurance companies and the possible decision may affect the people driving light transport vehicles while holding the LMV driving license.