The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Union government if a change in law is warranted on the legal question of whether a person holding a driving licence for a light motor vehicle is entitled to legally drive a transport vehicle of a particular weight.
Observing that these are policy issues impacting the livelihood of lakhs of people, a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said the government needs to take a “fresh look” at the matter while asserting that it needs to be taken up at the policy level.
The top court asked the Centre to wrap up the exercise within two months and apprise it about the decision taken.
It said any interpretation of the law must duly take into account valid concerns of road safety and the safety of other users of public transport.
The top court had earlier sought the assistance of Attorney General R Venkataramani in dealing with a legal question about whether a person holding a driving licence for a light motor vehicle is entitled to legally drive a transport vehicle of a particular weight.
The constitution bench had said knowing the position of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways will be necessary after it was argued that the apex 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 them with the judgement.
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 LMV.
“There may be lakhs of drivers across the country who are working on the basis of Dewangan judgment. This is not a constitutional issue. It is purely a statutory issue,” the bench, also comprising Justices Hrishikesh Roy, P S Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra, said.
“This is just not 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 said.
The apex court said once the government informs its stand to the court, the hearing in the constitution bench will be taken up thereafter.
The constitution bench is dealing with a legal question which reads: “Whether a person holding a driving licence in respect of ‘light motor vehicle’ 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.”
On July 18, the constitution bench commenced hearing as many as 76 petitions to deal with the legal question.
It had then heard the arguments of senior advocate Siddharth Dave, appearing for one of the petitioners, on alleged anomalies in the Motor Vehicle Act with regard to regimes for dealing with the grant of driving licenses for different categories of vehicles.
The lead petition was filed by M/s Bajaj Alliance General Insurance Co Ltd.
The legal question has given 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.
The Motor Vehicle 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 apex court in the Mukund Dewangan judgement and “the controversy in question needs to be revisited”.