The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Central government to review by January 17 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.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud noted that the exercise for amendment would require consultation with multiple stakeholders which will take time.
"We direct the Union to pursue the exercise with utmost expedition. Since the consultation with the state government 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 road map of further steps which Union proposes to take should be placed before this court," the bench, also comprising Justices Hrishikesh Roy, P S Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra, said.
At the outset, Attorney General R Venkataramani submitted a note from the Centre and said the Union Government was considering a larger picture rather than piecemeal amendments to address the issue.
The top law officer urged the bench to adjourn the proceedings sine die (indefinitely) in the meantime.
The apex court, however, refused to adjourn the proceedings and posted the matter for hearing on January 17.
It also clarified that during the pendency of the matter, the judgment in the Mukund Dewangan case shall hold the field.
The apex court had earlier 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, the bench had 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 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 Allianz 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".
-With PTI Input