Gauhati High Court dismisses PIL seeking rectification of SOP for printing Registration certificate for both Aadhar and non-Aadhar based dealers
The Gauhati High Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking rectification of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) dated 26-10-2022, wherein the Authorised Automobile Dealers are authorised to print and deliver the Registration Certificate for both Aadhar and non-Aadhar based registration at Dealers end etc., on the ground that same will give rise to increase in criminal activity in the State.
The PIL is filed by the petitioner, Jiarul Islam @ Jiyarul Islam .
M R Sodial , counsel for the petitioner submits that the criminal activities such as chain/mobile snatching, kidnapping or abduction, smuggling of drugs, gold and endangered species or their body parts are seen in Assam or neighbouring States and many terrorist activities such as bombing are also carried out by the use of vehicles. Accordingly, there is a fear prevailing in the mind of the society at large as to whether the new SOP will eliminate corruption or it will give rise to crime in the State.
The counsel for the petitioner also submits that prior to issuance of the SOP, in question; documents verification of vehicles for registration was undertaken by the District Transport Department. He further submits that handing over of the verification process of registration of vehicle to Authorised Automobile Dealers may give rise to registration by persons using fake documents.
It is further submitted by the learned counsel for the petitioner that the paying public must be conferred freedom which option to be chosen for registering vehicle, dealer point registration or registering vehicle in online process and getting approval in DTO office, as such handing over the complete verification and registration process to the automobile dealers may create many complications as the dealers are not required to send hard copies of vehicular documents to the DTO by the Authorised Automobile Dealers.
Strangely enough, the counsel for the petitioner submits that due to issuance of the SOP dated 26-10-2022 the officials of the DTO will be drawing salaries without any work left to be done on their part as the complete process of registration of vehicle will be done by the Authorised Automobile Dealers.
Ms. Borah, standing counsel, Transport Department, referring to paragraphs of the affidavit-in-opposition , submits that the SOP dated 26-10-2022 has been issued in order to enhance the efficiency, efficacy and effectiveness of the service delivery process to the people and to make the process easier in the interest of public, in tune with the latest technological developments and in terms of the provisions of the Act and Rules regulating the Motor Vehicle.
Ms. Borah, submits that the Transport Department of the State has, vide notification dated 22-02-2022, empowered the Motor Vehicle Dealers in the State of Assam as the Registering authority for registration of vehicles under Rule 2(m) of the Assam Motor Vehicle Rules, 2003.
As per Rule 2(m) of the Rules of 2003, “Registering authority” means the District Transport Officer of the district or the Deputy Commissioner of the district, where there is no such District Transport Officer within their area of jurisdiction or such other authority as may be specially empowered in this behalf by the State Government by notification published in the Official Gazette. Thus, the automobile dealers were specially empowered in this behalf by the State Government by issuing notification No. TMV.31/2022/8, dated 22-02-2022, accordingly, the SOP dated 26-10-2022 has been issued.
The standing counsel for the respondents further submits that the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Govt. of India, vide notification dated 31-03-2021 has made it mandatory to keep the records of vehicles registered in electronic form, which is effective from 01-04-2021. Presently, every application has to be mandatorily made in online mode with uploading of the requisite documents online and hence, it is no more required to keep physical files, once documents are kept in electronic form in online mode of application. Nowadays, in Vahan 4.0 software cash transactions have completely been stopped officially with effect from the year 2020.
On consideration of the materials placed on record, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Kardak Ete noted that the SOP dated 26-10-2022 seems to be issued in order to provide convenient and hassle free services to the citizen and in the interest of good governance, promoting ease of living of citizens and enabling better access to public services lic. It provides contactless services, which simplifies the Government delivery process in a transparent and efficient manner. It clearly demonstrates the interest of public in contrast to the claim of the petitioner, who attempted to project himself to be a public-spirited person by filing the present petition.
The Court further noted that the procedure adopted is in tune with the relevant provisions of the Acts and Rules regulating the motor vehicles. We also find that the SOP dated 26-10-2022 and other procedure are in sync with the present day advancements and development of the technology, which will benefit the public at large. The SOP dated 26-10-2022 and the procedures adopted are neither in conflict with any law nor the same can be termed as malafide. It would rather be against public interest to interfere with the SOP on mere askance of the petitioner in the garb of public interest litigation in to those areas, which are the functions of the executive.
The Court note that in due course, scope of the PIL jurisdiction got widened through juridical evolution as explained in State of Uttaranchal v. Balwant Singh Chaufal, (2010) 3 SCC 402, by Hon’ble Apex Court at paragraph 43:
“43. In this judgment, we would like to deal with the origin and development of public interest litigation. We deem it appropriate to broadly divide the public interest litigation in three phases:
Phase I.—It deals with cases of this Court where directions and orders were passed primarily to protect fundamental rights under Article 21 of the marginalised groups and sections of the society who because of extreme poverty, illiteracy and ignorance cannot approach this Court or the High Courts.
Phase II.—It deals with the cases relating to protection, preservation of ecology, environment, forests, marine life, wildlife, mountains, rivers, historical monuments, etc.
Phase III.—It deals with the directions issued by the Courts in maintaining the probity, transparency and integrity in governance.”
‘We would not go into details about these developmental phases of the PIL jurisdiction but suffice to mention the concern of the Court in preventing misuse of this wide jurisdiction in this proceedings as observed in Balwant Singh Chaufal (supra), in the following words:
“143. Unfortunately, of late, it has been noticed that such an important jurisdiction which has been carefully carved out, created and nurtured with great care and caution by the courts, is being blatantly abused by filing some petitions with oblique motives. We think time has come when genuine and bona fide public interest litigation must be encouraged whereas frivolous public interest litigation should be discouraged. In our considered opinion, we have to protect and preserve this important jurisdiction in the larger interest of the people of this country but we must take effective steps to prevent and cure its abuse on the basis of monetary and non-monetary directions by the courts.” , ‘ the order reads.